They work too hard and drink too much. Why today's woman is more like a man

New research into modern lifestyles shows that the gender gap is closing in some surprising ways...
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The Independent Online

Educated, increasingly affluent and confident behind the wheel, British women have more in common with their menfolk than ever before, according to a new portrait of the modern female. They are also working too hard and drinking too much.

Educated, increasingly affluent and confident behind the wheel, British women have more in common with their menfolk than ever before, according to a new portrait of the modern female. They are also working too hard and drinking too much.

The research, to be launched this week by Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, provides a snapshot of women's public and private lives in 21st-century Britain, charting dramatic changes in education and employment.

According to government statisticians, today's woman likes to go out boozing with her friends, is probably trying to quit smoking, likes to drive and is increasingly likely to spend much of her life at work. In some cases, women are also outpacing men, especially at school and university: 56 per cent of girls now achieve five or more GCSEs at grade A* to C compared with 45 per cent for boys. There are more women undergraduates than men - 56 per cent of students in higher education are female.

The statistical portrait, looking at issues such as health, employment, transport and exposure to crime, is the first in three years from the Government's Women and Equality unit, established to boost female opportunity in British society.

Women are more mobile than ever before with a third reporting that driving is their main form of transport and 61 per cent holding a full driving licence. Even the difference in life expectancy - 80 years compared with 76 for men - is predicted to narrow over the next 25 years.

While the two sexes grow ever closer in many respects, basic differences in earning power remain a concern to ministers. Tomorrow, Ms Hewitt is expected to highlight the continuing pay gap at a conference in London organised by Unison, Britain's largest trade union.

Ms Hewitt told The Independent on Sunday that women were making "great strides" with increasing numbers succeeding in business and in public life, yet are still losing out on the issue of equal pay. "We are determined to end this discrimination," she said. "Women now make up almost half the workforce and are becoming more economically active across all levels. However, one of the major problems is that they are paid less than men for doing the same job."

Modern woman still occupies a less prominent role in society than her male counterparts. She remains less likely than her male contemporaries to get into Parliament, be appointed to a public body or benefit from a pension when she retires.

At work, managerial roles are still denied to the majority of women. Last year, only 8 per cent of women were in management compared with 18 per cent of men. Instead, womenworkers continue to dominate the typing pool as well as settling for other poorly paid roles such as cleaner or receptionist.

The earnings gap is exacerbated by the fact part-time work is lower paid and attracts more women, especially those with families.

Last year, the pay gap between part-time female workers and men who worked full time was 64 per cent. The Government has set up a special committee, the Women and Work Commission, to investigate some of the reasons behind the pay disparities. It is expected to publish its findings in autumn this year.

Professor Frank Furedi from the University of Kent said that women were still receiving mixed messages, especially about their role as mothers and career women.

"We haven't got to the situation where society is able to give a clear story of what it's like to be a successful woman," he said. "In the past we just had a handful of them. We now have a new situation and society hasn't caught up. There is no clear message and women are being told conflicting things- that their career is linked to their children's wellbeing, either positively or negatively."

The feminist writer and broadcaster Beatrix Campbell criticised the Government for overplaying the narrowing of the pay gap, which she said had not shifted significantly since the 1970s. "Women do very well at school - in areas that they control. As soon as they enter the public world of work the discrimination begins. The wage gap between men and women in the City is 55 per cent," she said.

Women: 'We have more stress'

Jo Flippance, 30, mortgage broker

"Life in general for women now means a lot more stress. There is little difference between the lives of men and women and both end up doing almost the same things. Except that women have to juggle a lot more than men have to."

Mary Seddon, 45, English teacher

"It may be the case that the lives of women in their twenties are emulating men's, but it's certainly not the case for women of my age. The gender differences are still extremely apparent, although it depends hugely on what type of career you have."

Men: 'They're more agressive'

Jagdish Waral, 28, software consultant

"Women are mostly doing the same kind of things that men are doing and this shows they are more independent and confident than before. I come from Asia and have lived in the US. Better appointments, money and work for women is truly a worldwide trend."

Robert Gibson, 29, financial headhunter

"Women now tend to be at least as aggressive as men in the workplace. They have to be more aggressive and work harder to get to the same stage as men. Women might drink more like men, but they still can't drink as much as men - that is a biological fact."