Book Review: Now We Are Thirty: Women Of The Breakthrough Generation

I picked this book off Mum and Dad’s shelves while visiting as it looked really interesting. It focuses on the reflections and fears of women around my age (well, a little younger, I suppose – now that I’m thirty-four I’m very definitely ‘mid-thirties’!), but as it was written and released around 1980, it’s really about Mum’s generation. This made it even more interesting to me, as I’m fascinated by 20th century social history.

Now We Are Thirty

The author, Mary Ingham, based the book on interviews with women who had been in her year at school, all of whom had gone on to live very different kinds of adult lives – a stark contrast to their mothers’ generation, where almost all women ended up living a similar existence as housewives and mothers. In childhood, Ingham and her schoolfriends had expected that they would live similarly to their mothers, but as the world changed beyond imagination in the ’60s and ’70s, many of them found themselves working, studying, flatsharing, travelling, and only realising as they approached thirty still unmarried and childless that their lives had not gone quite as they planned. Others did live more traditional women’s lives, and the contrast in mindsets is very interesting.

For me, the best thing about the book is the very vivid picture it paints of the rapid societal change in the mid-20th century and the way it so drastically altered women’s options that many of them felt adrift. It’s also very interesting that, although we now see thirty as still relatively young, in 1980 the mindset seemed to be that if you’d focused on your career or studies during your twenties, it was probably too late to have a husband and family (this is very definitely prior to the ‘women should have it all!’ pressure that arose in later decades). Of course, this kind of thinking is strange in hindsight – my own mum spent her twenties working abroad and didn’t meet my dad until she was in her thirties – but the book demonstrates that at the time, it really was considered a decision that you had to make very early in adult life.

Mum said I could keep the book, so I expect I’ll reread it at some point!

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