There are now 2.8 million fewer men at work and 2 million more women than there were 20 years ago, and in some parts of the country the total of women in employment exceeds that of men. Female employment has suffered less in the recessions of the early 1980s and 1990s than the traditional male jobs in heavy industries, which have been hardest hit.
Women are attractive to employers in service industries because of their willingness to work flexible hours. Part-time work is not viewed as 'second best' but as the ideal for many who want to combine employment with child-rearing. The advantage of night or weekend work for women - when their partners can look after children - is that rates of pay, generally still a long way behind those of men, are higher.
Although lack of child care is a limiting factor for women who want to work, there have been significant developments in the last decade, including the advent of child-minding as a career option.
The rise of the working women is also likely to have an impact on the relationship between men and women. Some social commentators predict that the young, unskilled male who has no economic value to a woman will become