Childfree Young Women’s Experiences of Employment Insecurity and Financial Autonomy in England

Hadfield, Sarah (2022). Childfree Young Women’s Experiences of Employment Insecurity and Financial Autonomy in England. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis uses the concept of financial autonomy to investigate how childfree young women (CYW) aged 18–30, ‘get by’ when income is insecure. It suggests that the gendered conceptualisation of citizenship is not ‘universally’ applicable in practice, fractured as it is by age and parental status, and that youth transitions literature omits the experiences of this youth cohort.

This study uses mixed methods, including secondary data analysis of the dataset Understanding Society to investigate the comparative labour market position of CYW. It reinterprets British social policy from the early 20th century to the present day, enabling an understanding of the institutional construction of ‘young womanhood’. Focus groups with a sample of the population of interest acted as a check and balance in the research process. An original self-administered survey gathered further information on the population of interest and was used to recruit 28 participants for in-depth semi-structured interviews. These were aided by calendar research methods.

The findings indicate that CYW in insecure employment work in jobs that place them in the lowest socio-economic group. Their employment experiences demonstrate how CYW navigate oppression in the workplace in exchange for an independent income (wages). Although employment remains the main way for CYW to enact financial agency and privacy, it is not their only source of income. The financial resources accessed by CYW go beyond family, also including credit and partners. This thesis argues that theories of economic independence oversimplify the financial lives of CYW; culture and perceptions of the type of support that parents want to give their adult children influence what and how financial support is given. This thesis concludes that an attack on young people’s social rights is a forewarning to other age groups and highlights the need for an age and gendered-based approach to social policy analysis.

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