Changing Lives of Women

Changing Lives of Women: Overview

  • The period from 1951-1979 saw significant shifts in the lives of British women, owing to socio-economic changes and landmark legislative acts.
  • These changes spanned across various domains of life, including education, employment, domestic life, and politics.

Women and Education

  • Post-war educational reforms such as the 1944 Butler Act improved access to education, with increasing numbers of girls staying in school after the age of 15.
  • By the 1960s, there was a significant rise in the number of girls receiving a university education, resulting in a more highly educated female workforce.

Women in the Workforce

  • More women began to enter the workforce, often in part-time roles, to supplement household income. By 1971, nearly half the women in Britain were engaged in paid work.
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1970 was a watershed moment, making it illegal to pay women less than men for performing the same job. However, its effectiveness was limited due to the existence of distinctly gendered job sectors.

Domestic Life and Women

  • The Domestic revolution in the 1950s and 60s, characterized by the rise of modern electrical appliances, made household chores less time-consuming which indirectly made it easier for women to seek employment.
  • The introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1961 gave women more control over their fertility, fundamentally changing women’s lives and leading to shifting norms around marriage and family life.

Women in Politics

  • The Sex Discrimination Act (1975) was instrumental in prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex or marital status in employment, education, and training.
  • Female representation in Parliament remained low, however the period did see influential female politicians, most notably Margaret Thatcher, who became Britain’s first female Prime Minister in 1979.

Evolving Social Attitudes Towards Women

  • The influence of the feminist movement gathered momentum during this period, challenging traditional gender roles and advocating for women’s rights.
  • By the end of the 1970s, there was a gradual shift in societal expectations and stereotypes related to women, reflecting in a more diverse range of opportunities and roles for them.
  • Nevertheless, many women continued to face challenges, as deeply entrenched societal norms and the traditional division of labour often remained unchallenged.

Changing Lives of Women: Consequences and Legacy

  • These changes, both legislative and social, challenged and redefined the role of women in society, setting the stage for further advancements in the coming decades.
  • However, the period also highlighted the persistence of gender disparities and discrimination, evident in areas like wage differences, distribution of housework and representation in public life.
  • The impact of these changes and their effectiveness in promoting gender equality continues to be a subject of historical analysis and debate.