Who benefits from flexible working? Gender and socioeconomic inequalities in 'flexible' work

Publication type

Conference Paper


Nicola Spencer Godfrey

Publication date


British lives have changed dramatically over the last 40 years, with increased diversity in work-family biographies. The majority of mothers are now in employment, with competing demands of work and family, and require workplace flexibility to achieve an appropriate work-life balance. Work-life balance strategies for employees may comprise both spatial and temporal flexibility, such as working from home and flexi-time, alongside the more traditional ‘flexible’ strategy of part-time work. However, whilst part-time work reduces hours, it generally involves minimal workplace flexibility. This paper explores underlying family, gender and class dynamics, to examine who benefits from different types of ‘flexible’ work strategies. This paper presents cross-sectional analyses of 13,746 employed men and women aged 20-59 years from Wave 4 of ‘Understanding Society’ (2012-13). Separate logistic regression models were analysed for different types of ‘flexible’ work examining how use of each type varied by gender, socioeconomic class, education and family composition. The results show considerable differences across ‘flexible’ work types. Flexi-time or working from home is more prevalent amongst well-educated men working in higher occupational roles. In contrast, part-time workers tend to be less-educated mothers in lower occupational positions. Other flexible arrangements such as term-time only, job sharing or compressed hours are used more by well-educated mothers working in lower occupation roles, possibly reflecting occupational downgrading.
Current work-life balance strategies, in particular temporal and spatial flexibility, appear to benefit employees who are already advantaged. Differential access to alternative different types of flexible working effectively compounds gendered workplace and family inequalities.


Social Change, Labour Market, Households and Social Stratification