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Taking your first steps into higher education
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1.1 Changes in women’s employment patterns

During the 1960s and 1970s, it became clear that there was a significant increase in the proportion of women who worked in paid employment outside the home. A pattern seemed to emerge in which many more married women worked until the birth of their first child and then returned to work part time.

Social scientists suggested a number of explanations for this:

  • economic changes, bringing with them more, and different, employment opportunities
  • increases in educational opportunities for girls
  • the re-emergence of feminism in the 1960s.
Figure 2 Mary Wollstonecraft – an eighteenth century feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Feminism dates back to the late eighteenth century and to people like Mary Wollstonecraft. Feminism provides theories which analyse and explain the gender divisions and inequalities which disadvantage women. It is also a social movement that advocates and works for equal opportunities for men and women.

Social science theories often try to tackle really complex issues, like gender inequality. This complexity results from the fact that different factors, such as those about the changes to women’s employment patterns, all play a part and are connected or interrelated to each other.

Theories also seem complex in themselves because different social scientists emphasise one kind of explanation rather than another. This leads to disputes and disagreements among social scientists about how best to explain what is going on.

Women at work today in a range of occupations
Figure 3 Women at work today in a range of occupations