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New economy, neoliberal state and professionalized parenting: mothers’ labour market engagement and state support for social reproduction in class-differentiated Britain

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journal contribution
posted on 12.05.2016 by Sarah Holloway, Helena Pimlott-Wilson
Contemporary economic, political and social shifts in the Global North are reconfiguring the resolution of productive and reproductive labour. This paper explores how the emergence of the New Economy, the rolling out of the neoliberal state, and the professionalization of parenting are transforming: (i) the landscape in which mothers with primary-school-aged children make decisions about how to secure a living and care for their children; and (ii) what role they think the state should play in facilitating the provision of childcare to support working parenthood. The paper makes two innovation contributions to knowledge. Firstly, it pinpoints strongly class-differentiated changes in women’s reconciliation of paid employment and caring work in contemporary Britain. The academically dominant one-and-a-half breadwinner model is commonly reflected in middle-class lifestyles, but has little analytical purchase for working-class women in this study, as they are more likely to mother full-time in state-dependent family households. It is vital that we understand these differences in women’s labour-force participation and their implications for class inequality. Secondly, the paper concentrates academic attention on the sweeping expansion in the state’s role in social reproduction through the provision of wraparound childcare (breakfast and afterschool clubs) in primary schools. Novel insights into parental attitudes reveal that middle-class women demand choice and feel entitled to state-sponsored childcare provision which underpins the feminisation of the labour force. Working class women value provision for others, but fear being coerced into using childcare instead of mothering in the home. Their responses reveal competing understandings of what counts as equality for women, and stark variations in different women’s abilities to achieve this.


This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-4095) with analysis undertaken during Professor Sarah Holloway’s British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship.



  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment

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Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers


HOLLOWAY, S. and PIMLOTT-WILSON, H., 2016. New economy, neoliberal state and professionalized parenting: mothers’ labour market engagement and state support for social reproduction in class-differentiated Britain. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 41 (4), pp. 376-388.


John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society with The Institute of British Geographers (© the authors)


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