Inequalities between women of different social categories are nothing new. And despite the effects of the Welfare State, there still remained a number of inequalities right into the1960’s. In the field of abortion for example, there were those who managed to find a compliant doctor and the money to pay for the abortion and there were those who either were unable to find the means of terminating an unwanted pregnancy or who resorted to back street butchery. The Family Planning Act was passed in 1967 and was to have a great effect on women’s lives. Abortion became more easily available : in 1968, 22,000 abortions were carried out in public hospitals ; in 1969, the number reached 31,000. The figure for single women continued to rise in the 1970’s and 1980’s : in 1971, 44,300 ; in 1990, 116,200. However, for married women, the figure actually fell slightly during the same period (1971,41,500 ; 1990, 38,200).

Young mothers have always had difficulties in returning to work, especially if they were unable to find a willing child-minder. One reason is that until the 1990’s, children usually did not go to school until the age of 5. And child-minding was usually quite expensive as the local authorities only provided a limited number of places. This was not surprising as successive Government policies had encouraged women to remain at home to look after the children rather than to enter the workplace.

The number of births to unmarried mothers remained fairly stable from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1960’s at approximately 4% of the total of births. From the 1960’s onwards, the percentage doubled. Then followed a period of relative stability (due probably to the effects of The Family Planning Act). Later, the percentages rose (luring the 1980’s and 1990’s.

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The number of marriages reached the same level in 1990 as in 1961, with admittedly a larger population of women of child-bearing age, due to the baby-boom of the 1950’s. However, the number of marriages also included an increasing number of remarriages.

From the 1970’s onwards the number of women and the percentage of women to men in the workplace began to increase. Between 1971 and 1990 3 million more women entered the world of work, reaching a figure of 12m, whereas during the same period the number of men at work increased from 15.7m to 16 million. The percentage accelerated in 1982-1983, when women represented 42% of the labour force. This increase corresponded to an increase in part-time work, often compensating the loss of the male salary, due to redundancy. From the 1970’s onwards, more and more women were to be found in tertiary posts. In 1971, tertiary posts represented 59% of women’s jobs ; in 1990, the percentage reached 76%.

Equal pay was however not yet a reality in the 1960’s and 1970’s : in 1971, the average female wage was 57% of the average male wage. The figure reached 67% in 1981 and 68% in 1990. The increase was particularly marked after 1975, due no doubt to the effects of the Equal Pay Act of 1970, which came into force five years later, and the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975. The latter led to the creation of the Equal Opportunities Commission whose role was to control the implementation of the Law. In the field of education, sexual discrimination has often been a major problem for girls and women : in 1975, 3.5% of school-girls trained to become primary or secondary school teachers, compared to 0.8% of school-boys ; however, the same year, 1975, only 4.9% of school-girls went to University whereas the figure for school-boys was 8.2% (figures from the Department of Education and Science, 1975)

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Sex Discrimination Act of 1975

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Inequality and Gender

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