Women, breadwinners and ‘modern’ families

Hi…my name is Alison Henderson and I’ve got a confession – its been too long since my last blog post! When I started my blog, I was always very clear that I would post as & when I could and not force myself into a rigid schedule of publishing something just for the sake of it. But I wonder if that was simply giving myself an opt-out clause straight away! No matter…what’s important to me in my ramblings is having the luxury of an hour or so to put words ‘to paper’ on a subject which grabs my attention. So here goes…


modern families

Yesterday a report was published which found that Women are the main breadwinner in nearly a third of Scottish homes representing the highest proportion in the UK

I was asked to take part in a BBC Radio discussion in my role with the Association of Scottish Businesswomen – as if that alone isn’t scary enough, I then had to try to sound sensible enough to articulate why that might be!

The other people taking part in the discussion were stay-at home Dads and to be honest, I don’t really think that the opposite side of the coin in this debate is about stay-at home parents – does this mean that one third of families ‘allow’ women to earn the higher salary because the man has opted to stay at home and raise the children – I don’t think so.

I believe that there are several reasons for the ‘change in dynamic’, if you can call it that:

  • women no longer have to leave paid employment when they get married (I was stunned when I learned that this was commonplace in the UK not that long before I started my working life in (whispers) 1986!
  • more women than ever before are successfully going through further education, thereby earning themselves good jobs, and amazing career opportunities
  • women can now see many strong role models in the modern world – successful women who are senior managers, running businesses, holding top roles in education & government
  • women are waiting longer to have families, meaning they have reached a certain level in their careers before having children, meaning they return/remain at that same level
  • and of course its becoming more accepted for Dads to share in the stay-at-home role while the Mum goes back to work
  • there is also the effect of a shift in the economic sectors in the UK,  where perhaps the more traditional male jobs in our manufacturing sectors have been massively eroded.

I’m no economist or expert in this, its just a gut reaction from me which says that this is a slow and steady progression for women in the workplace: beginning to gain ground in career & business opportunities where we’re not vilified for wanting to have a balance of work & family life, where we work hard and show our children that a modern world has room for all sorts of families – Mums who work, Dads who share in bringing up the children – surely that makes for a better world all round?

But, the but in all this (there’s always that blast of cold water isn’t there!) has to be that there are very likely to be many more single parent families in this study – I don’t know why that’s not been explored more – women as the sole earner and parent in a family.

And also from those Dads who were in the discussion yesterday: a very real downside to being the stay-at-home parent…feeling excluded from the support networks that are there for Mums who look after the children. Mums at the school gates, in the parks and the toddler groups who don’t really welcome the Dads into their ranks and the distinct lack of groups for the men – how many Dads and Baby magazines or groups have you ever seen advertised? That made me feel sad – as a modern society how can we have that balance if we don’t provide the right support to let the Mums back to work and make the Dads feel they can actually leave the house with their children and be immensely proud of their role as stay-at-home carer? The societal guilt that a working mother feels is often bad enough, without the added pressure of thinking that her partner is also finding it tough as a consequence of their situation.

Well its a debate that for me swings my emotions between feeling pride that women are doing well, and families are achieving balance, to sadness that as a modern society we can’t applaud both parents for doing what comes naturally!

Dundee kettle-bilers

Dundee kettle-bilers

But I’ve got one thing to leave you with – Dundee is going through an amazing resurgence in popularity at the moment and I’m very proud to be born & bred here. Anyone who’s ever visited Verdant Works, our Jute Museum here, will be able to tell you all about Dundee’s 19th & 20th century ‘kettle-bilers’. Women workers were the backbone of Dundee’s mills, meaning their men stayed at home to look after the children, cook the meals and boil the kettles! So perhaps things haven’t really changed all that much after all!

Have a great day,

Alison :)

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