The influence of work and family roles on women's socioeconomic and psychological well-being at midlife: a life course perspective: PhD thesis
This dissertation uses the British Household Panel Study to explore the lives of the broad cohort of women (born 1928-197) who became adults in the early post-war decades. During the 'The Golden Age of the Family' a pervasive ideology located women within the domestic sphere and portrayed men as breadwinners. From this perspective, only men were credited with occupying the roles of worker (in the labour market) and earner (within the family). This ideology concealed the increasing presence of women in the labour market and the contributions they made to household income maintenance. It also produced a social order ill-equipped to deal with the subsequent high levels of divorce and lone parenthood.
Using a life course approach I model the interplay of social historical forces and goal-oriented agency in the construction of work and family trajectories. I consider what factors prompted a minority of women to work full-time when they had young children at home and conclude that many were motivated by the need to make a substantial contribution to the family income. I subsequently explore whether those with a strong labour market attachment gained unqualified benefit from their contributions to the family income or whether this is contingent upon their marital history. The extent to which the socio-economic well-being of middle-aged women is visibly derived from their work and marital histories shed slight on the relative importance accorded to these roles in wider society.
In recent decades there has been a move to reconceptualise the 'third age' of women's lives and to emphasise the freedoms and possibilities attendant upon growing older. This thesis draws attention to profound disparities in access to socio-economic and psychological resources among the broad cohort currently at mid-life. It also highlights the part played by family roles - both past and present - in structuring access to these resources. For this cohort at least, these configurations are likely to continue to play a large part in delineating the parameters of their lives.