ACIS Logo “The woman does not give as good a return of work as the man”: Women, Work, and the Marriage Bar in Ireland, c. 1924-1973.

Until 1973, women in the Irish civil service were legally required to retire from their employment after marriage. Certain lower grades of the organisation were female-only. Pay grades were demarked by marital status as well as gender. The marriage bar was also observed informallly in private industry. For women who remained single, it was difficult and unusual to achieve promotion. As one civil servant, Nancy Wyse Power wrote in the 1950s: “Any woman who is promoted must be greatly superior to her male competitors. It is not enough for her to be as good as them; she must be so outstandingly good that her claim cannot be ignored.” This paper explores attitudes and activism associated with the marriage bar in both public and private employment, from the foundation of the Irish Free State until the eventual removal of the marriage bar in 1973. It is argued that the Catholic social concept of a “family wage” as espoused by the papal encyclical Quadressimo Anno (1931), was central to the prevalence of the marriage bar in Ireland. A single-income household was seen as the ideal, and single female workers were often viewed by a patriarchal government and religious hierarchy as a threat to unemployed male “breadwinners”. Additionally, it demonstrates that whilst protest and opposition to the marriage bar was not always widespread, the patriarchal “family wage” model of employment, although idealised from Irish independence, did not fit with economic reality and the lived experience of many women during these decades.

Published on: March 31, 2020