Young women revel in role of high achievers

Louise Jury reports on changing social patterns in the workplace and at home
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Women are better-educated and achieving more in the workplace. They are also taking far more pleasure in violence.

One in five women earns more than their partner, a three-fold increase from a decade ago. About 90 per cent of women aged 16 to 24 have some qualifications compared with only half of the 35 to 55-year-olds.

The typical female professional is young, while the typical male professional is old. Young women professionals work harder than any other group, the survey found.

However, women continue to predominate in low-paid and part-time jobs, and many feel they do not get the opportunities or respect they deserve. Nonetheless, a "much more individualistic generation" of women is ill at ease with equal opportunities policies based on, for example, targets for specific groups.

Few jobs are family-friendly. Policies will have to change if society wishes women to be able to have careers as well as children. But the problem of mixing work and family also applies to men who are increasingly taking an active interest in their children.

Equality can be seen in the household with the virtual disappearance of the "housekeeping allowance" and with more couples sharing domestic chores.

A more sinister development is evidence that women are becoming more aggressive. Thirteen per cent of women aged 18 to 24 agree it is "acceptable to use physical force to get something you really want". The authors warn: "We expect female violence to become a major issue in the years ahead."

Most people have taken advantage of the "new freedoms" in relationships and family life, the report says.

Marriage is "no longer a reliable institution". The authors, Dr Geoff Mulgan and Helen Wilkinson, argue for a "deregulation" of marriage, to enable people to determine where they marry and allow a wider range of "celebrants".

They also argue for people to be taught how to negotiate relationships - "with skills that may owe more to the boardroom or even war than to romance".

The law is "heavily skewed" towards married couples, and co-habiting couples should have more legal rights to save them from a "legal no-man's land".

The authors write: "The effectiveness of marriage is best achieved by enabling people to develop long-term relationships of commitment, not by penalising those couples who are to all intents and purposes in marriage- like relationships." This would include gay couples.