Let's start by saying that all women work, whether they are in paid employment or at home with children, or caring for family members. Very few of us have a choice about whether we work or not, and probably most of us are happy with that.
But every so often, studies will try to prove that women in paid employment are damaging their families, or newspaper articles will try to stoke the 'mummy wars' - to create conlict between women who stay at home when their children are small and those who go out to work, as if there is a one-size-fits-all model of parenting that we should all squash ourselves into.
There have been contrasting studies published in the last couple of months. At the beginning of August, Jacqueline Scott from Cambridge University published a book in which she said that the shine had come off 'Supermum'. Apparently more people now think that a woman who works does so at the expense of her family, and enthusiasm for equality in the workplace is waning. Professor Scott’s analysis shows that in 1994, 51 per cent of women in Britain and 52 per cent of men said they believed family life would not suffer if a woman went to work. By 2002 those proportions had fallen to 46 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men. There was also a decline in the number of people thinking the best way for a woman to be independent is to have a job. Scott said: “The results are even more extreme in the US, where the percentage of people arguing that family life does not suffer if a woman works has plummeted, from 51 per cent in 1994 to 38 per cent in 2002.” Guardian report here.
But then along came another study in September, which seemed to say the opposite. A Mumsnet survey found that 90 per cent of full-time working mothers say they are a good role model for their children, and more than half are happy to combine parenthood with a career. More than 80 per cent of working mothers feel their income is essential to their families, and over three quarters feel they work more efficiently after they have had children.
Why the different results? Well, perhaps it's a reminder not to take these things too seriously and an indication that people have different views. One was an academic study and one was from self-selecting participants, so they can't be compared like for like. But I wonder too if the reason the Cambridge study was more negative was because it included men. Women in paid employment have less time to devote to housework and hopefully will be expecting their partners to contribute more to the running of the home. Maybe the guys were just unhappy that they are having to pull their weight! There's no doubt in my mind that equality at work, in the home and in church starts at the kitchen sink.