Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Midlife Women's Employment and Pension Entitlement in Relation to Coresident Adult Children in Great Britain

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Midlife Women's Employment and Pension Entitlement in Relation to Coresident Adult Children in Great Britain

Article excerpt

The influence of dependent children on women's employment has been extensively researched, but there has been an implicit assumption that older children have no effect on women's employment. We argue that the presence in the home of adult children, defined here as those aged over 16, has implications for women's need and opportunity for paid employment. This in turn impacts on women's opportunity to accumulate pension entitlements and hence on their financial well-being in later life.

In this article, we first examine the association between the presence of adult children living at home and British women's employment from age 40 to 59. Second, we examine the association between presence of adult children and women's enrollment in an occupational pension plan, controlling for hours of work.


Over the last two decades, British and American women's employment has increased substantially (Martin & Roberts, 1984; Spitze, 1988), especially for women aged under 45. This trend is generally viewed as bringing increased financial independence for women. However, almost all the increased employment for British women has been part-time, while the number of women in full-time employment has risen very little (Hakim, 1993).

Only half of British women who are employed work full-time, in contrast to the United States where the majority of employed women work full-time. The low rate of full-time employment among younger women with dependent children is linked to the lack of child care provision in Britain (Arber & Gilbert, 1991; Dex & Shaw, 1986; Harrop & Moss, 1993; Joshi, 1984), but the persistence of part-time work among midlife women, whose children do not require child care, needs to be explained.

Women's attitudes and preferences are likely to play a part in influencing their participation in paid employment; yet their options are constrained by such factors as their family's financial need (Oppenheimer, 1977), their health, their potential earnings, the availability of employment, husbands' wishes (for married women), and the pressure of domestic work including child care (mainly among younger women) (Martin & Roberts, 1984).

Part-time jobs, as well as being lower paid, tend to be lower in the occupational scale (Hakim, 1993) and less likely to offer fringe benefits such as an occupational pension plan (Ginn & Arber, 1993; Sinfield, 1986). Having a pension is important to financial well-being in later life (Arber & Ginn, 1991; Ginn & Arber, 1991), increasingly so as the value of the British state basic pension declines (Evandrou & Falkingham, 1993).


An emerging literature in the U.S. has been concerned with adult childrens' coresidence with parents (Ward & Spitze, 1992), in terms of prevalence (Aquilino, 1990), intergenerational and marital relationships (Aquilino & Supple, 1991; Suitor & Pillemer, 1987, 1988; Umberson, 1992; White & Edwards, 1990), and the return of adult children to the parental home following divorce (DaVanzo & Goldscheider, 1990). There is, however, little research on how the presence of adult children in the home relates to midlife women's employment. As noted by Moen (1991, p. 135), "The middle period of adulthood in women's lives has been a neglected area of study, with little known about the dynamics of women's work and their marital and parental roles in midlife."

The overwhelming majority of women in Britain and the U.S. who take a career break to have children reenter the labor market well before the "empty nest" stage of the life course (Dex & Shaw, 1986; Elias & Main, 1982; Yeandle, 1984). In research on women's employment, the age of the youngest child (under 16) is often used to indicate women's life-course stage. However, among midlife women, there is generally no distinction made between women with a "swollen nest" (where adult children are still at home), an "empty nest" (where all children have left home), and women who have never had a child. …

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