By Lauren Howells

The proportion of women aged between 25 and 54 in paid work has risen from 57% in 1975 to a record high of 78% in 2017, according to the new analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

The analysis, which looked at how women’s working patterns have changed over the last 40 years, showed that these “big social and economic changes” were “in large part” driven by mothers and were mostly the result of a “huge change in working patterns”, with a rise in the number of women in employment through their mid-to-late 20s and early 30s.

Women are having children and cohabiting “both less frequently and later in life”

The IFS attributed the change in part to the fact that women are having children and cohabiting “both less frequently and later in life”, as well the findings that women were now “much less likely” to “drop out” of the labour market when they have their first child.

These two factors, the IFS said, had led to a “large rise” (from 50% to 72% over the last four decades) in the proportion of mothers who are of working age being in paid work. It noted that the rise had been “particularly large” among lone mothers and those who had children of pre-school and primary school age.

The proportion of couples with children with only one working adult dropped from 47% in the mid-1970s to 27% in 2015.

Largest increases seen amongst women who are partnered with higher-earning men

However, the largest increases in what is known as “maternal employment” were seen among the partners of higher-earning men.

The IFS found that although 40 years ago mothers who were with men who were in the bottom and top halves of the male earnings distribution were “equally likely” to be in paid employment, this was not the case now.

“For every additional mother in employment partnered with a lower-earning man, there are around two additional mothers in employment partnered with a higher-earning man,” the IFS said.

Record high employment rate among women largely driven by mothers

London falls to having the joint-lowest employment rate

The IFS discovered that London’s employment rate among women of ‘prime working age’ had fallen from the highest in the UK in 1975 at 63% to joint-lowest with Northern Ireland in 2017 at 74%, despite strong employment growth in recent years.

Research Economist at the IFS and an author of the report, Barra Roantree, said:

“Employment rates for working-age women in the UK 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 with children 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.”

At the beginning of April, the BBC reported that out of the companies that had submitted their gender pay figures, 78% were paying men more than women.