In Brief

Female employment hits record high in UK

Eight in ten women aged 25-54 now work as number of stay-at-home mums falls

The rate of employment among women aged 25-54 hit a record high of 78% in 2017, latest data show.

The figure has soared over the past four decades, with just 57% of women in that age group going to work in 1975. In a report published today, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) attributes the rise to more working-age women “cohabiting and having children both less frequently and later in life”.

“The share of women living with a partner or spouse by age 25 has fallen from more than 80% for women born in the 1940s to less than 60% for women born in the 1970s, while the share of women born in 1975 who had given birth to at least one child by age 25 (31%) is around half that of women born in 1945 (60%),” the report says.

Women are also now less likely to drop out of the labour market even after having children. The proportion of working-age mothers with a job has risen by nearly 50% since 1975, when around half were in paid employment, to 72% in 2015. Employment had increased most among those with children of pre-school or primary-school age, as well single mothers.

The trend is especially prevalent among middle-class families. “Only one in five middle-class mothers stay at home to bring up their children,” the Daily Mail reports. However, mothers in the highest-earning households were far less likely to work than those with upper-middle incomes, which “may point to the emergence of a class of well-heeled mothers who regard the lack of a need to work as a mark of status”.

The IFS also found that the rise in London’s female employment rate had slowed compared with other parts of the country. In 1975, London’s employment rate was the highest in the UK, at 63%, but had risen to only 74% in 2017 - the joint-lowest figure, together with Northern Ireland.

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