Death of the stay-at-home mum

Death of the stay-at-home mum: Only 1 in 5 wealthy women chose full-time motherhood

  • Increasing number of girls going to university reduces full-time mother numbers
  • Middle class predominate in the millions of women embracing working life 
  • Forty years ago almost half of couples had a breadwinner and full-time parent 

Only one in five middle-class mothers stay at home to bring up their children, marking ‘a huge social change’, researchers claim.

The increasing number of girls studying at university and going on to well-paid careers has helped bring about a massive decline in full-time motherhood among women in well-off homes.

They have been turning their backs on the traditional child-rearing lifestyle, choosing instead to work when their children are young at twice the rate of their lower-earning counterparts.

The report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) – Britain’s most prominent economic think-tank – is the first to point to the predominance of middle-class women among the millions embracing working motherhood.

Middle-class women in particular have been turning their backs on child-rearing lifestyles to go out and work 

It comes as couples who are striving to buy a home are under unprecedented financial pressure to meet high mortgage costs.

But the IFS also said that the most wealthy mothers – those with the highest-earning husbands or partners – were far less likely to work than those with upper-middle incomes. This 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.

Forty years ago, almost half of couples bringing up children were split into a breadwinner and a full-time parent, invariably the mother.

But the share of couples who raise their family in the traditional way has now dropped to 27 per cent – and it is even lower among middle-class families.

In the Seventies, 61 per cent of mothers with lower-earning husbands were likely to work, compared with 60 per cent who had higher-income partners.

Nowadays, although 70 per cent of mothers with less well-paid partners work, the figure for mothers with partners on above average pay has soared to 79 per cent.

Forty years ago almost half of couples had a breadwinner and full-time parent, but women have flocked to the workplace 

This did not apply to the richest families, however. The report said: ‘The probability of mothers being in work initially increases with their partner’s earnings before declining among the partners of the very highest-earning men.’ London had the lowest rate of working women in Britain last year, with 74 per cent of those aged between 25 and 54 in jobs.

The IFS claimed that the new working mothers were mostly in full-time rather than part-time jobs, adding: ‘The increase in maternal employment has been concentrated among those with children of pre-school or primary-school age, and among partners of relatively high-earning men.’

Women born in the Eighties were more than four times more likely to go to university than those of their mothers’ generation.

Some 45 per cent of women in their thirties have a degree or equivalent, compared with only 13 per cent of those in their mid-50s.

But the report said this ‘falls well short of explaining the rise in employment’ among women.

IFS analyst Barra Roantree added: ‘Employment rates for working-age women have increased dramatically over the past four decades, particularly for those with young children.

‘This is a huge social and economic change. The vast majority of couples now have two adults in paid work.

‘With the earnings of women increasingly important for these families, understanding the reasons behind persistent differences in the wages of men and women is all the more important.’

The gender pay gap has almost halved over the past 20 years as more mothers of young children stay in the workforce. In 1997 the difference between male and female earnings was 17.4 per cent for full-time workers, but this had fallen to 9.1 per cent by last April.


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