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The sex is good but we’re more anxious: how life has changed for women since 1946

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Women in 2016 are more content with being women, with work and with their sex lives than previous generations – but they’re also worried about money and health, and convinced that their mothers were happier when they were their age.

That’s according to the results of a new survey by  Woman’s Hour, commissioned to find out just how women’s lives and attitudes have changed since the iconic BBC Radio 4 show launched in 1946.

More than 1,000 women aged 18 to 65 and over were surveyed as part of the research, and their answers offer a revealing insight into how things have changed for women in the last 70 years – for better and for worse.

In 1947, almost half (44%) of women said that they would prefer to be male, according to a poll conducted at the time. But in 2016, the Woman’s Hour survey found that almost 90% of women are happy being female, and would rather be a woman than a man.

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More than half of women surveyed in 2016 said that self-respect was their main reason for pursuing a career.

The survey results suggest that modern contentment with womanhood can be attributed, in part, to women’s increased power and ambition in the workplace. Women today are far more likely to be in employment (60% of the women surveyed by Woman’s Hour in 2016 were in work, compared to just 31% in 1951), and the majority (52%) of those aged 18-64 said that “self-respect” was their main reason for choosing to work. 

Millennial women aged 18-34 were also much less likely to feel like that that they had been held back at work because of their gender (18%) than those aged 65 and over (27%).


Read more: Stylist goes behind the scenes at Woman's Hour


Women aged 25 to 34 were found to be the most fulfilled by their sex lives, with 24% saying that they were “extremely satisfied”. This is in contrast with women aged 55-64, who were the most likely to be “extremely unsatisfied” (9%).

The Woman’s Hour survey also asked women about their attitudes towards marriage, and found that modern women are generally positive about the institution, despite the fact that marriage is on the decline, according to ONS statistics published in July. More than 40% of women polled by Woman’s Hour said that men and women gave up equal amounts of freedom when married, compared to 25% of men and women who felt this way in 1951.

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Money worries were one of the biggest issues affecting women in 2016.

However, the study also revealed that life isn’t all rosy for women in 2016, with modern millennial women disproportionately affected by anxiety and money worries. Almost one fifth of the women surveyed by Woman’s Hour said that money issues were the most urgent problem currently facing them and their families, a stressor that was most prevalent among 25-34 year olds (28%).

And millennial women aged 25-34 were the most likely to say that they worried “a lot” about a range of issues, including their health and that of those close to them (68%), having enough money in old age (53%), and making ends meet (51%).


Read more: Jenni Murray on why she wishes she'd never changed her name after marriage


Women in this age bracket were also the least likely to consider themselves happier than their mums were at their age, with only 27% saying that they thought they were more content than their mothers. In contrast, more than 40% of women aged 65 and over thought that they were happier than their own mothers were at their age.

“It's fascinating to see the results of this candid poll and hear women’s views on family, work and relationships,” said Alice Feinstein, editor of Woman’s Hour. “And it's intriguing to work out what's changed and what's remained the same since Woman's Hour started 70 years ago.”

Images: BBC, iStock

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