Digital Mums Too Stressed For Study

Too Stressed For Study

Our new research has shown that outdated skills and knowledge are really holding mothers back in their careers and keeping them out of the workforce. This is something they are struggling with and worry about. The solution to this challenge is to engage in adult learning but they aren’t.

1 in 2 of the mothers we surveyed had not engaged in formal learning within the last 3 years and 1 in 3 mothers over the age of 41 had not engaged in formal learning for 10 years or more. Given mothers are concerned about their skills and knowledge dating and how this could impact their career, why is this?

Too stressed for study

The barrier to learning that comes up in our conversations with mothers again and again is a lack of time and critically a lack of headspace to take advantage of learning opportunities.

Mothers are time poor and if they can find a few hours for study they are juggling a number of spinning plates and learning something new requires the mental focus that many feel they simply don’t have.

This anecdotal evidence is backed up by our study.

  • Around 1 in 3 mothers across all age ranges feel that lack of time is a major barrier to learning.
  • Around 1 in 4 mothers between 18 and 50 feel that lack of headspace is a significant barrier to learning.

Life as a mum can be one giant routine. I would start my day very, very early at 5am after being up a lot of the night with my son. My daughter would be up sprightly and ready to play and take on the day. My morning would be full of chores. We’d maybe go to the park and then it was planning for dinner time and mountains of washing. It’s hard.

Tori Denyer, Digital Mums graduate

Headspace is really hard to find. You can’t organise headspace like you can organise time. There are ways to find extra time, for example, postponing things or reprioritising. There are loads of books and tools to help you. When my head is overflowing I can’t concentrate on anything.

Kelly Jacobson-Collins, Digital Mums graduate

In the UK, women do almost twice as many hours of unpaid work a day as men. This means that UK men have a whopping five hours more leisure time than women per week. That’s a lot of time that could be spent learning new skills.

And with the ageing population, it’s women that are carrying the additional care load so not only are they caring for their children they are also caring for their parents (and often their husband’s parents). Women makeup 70% of all unpaid dementia carers in the UK and are 2.5 times more likely than men to be on-call around the clock as a carer.

Almost 9 in 10 women said they felt solely responsible for organising schedules of the family. 7 in 10 said they were solely responsible for “invisible labour” such as family routines, who needs to be where and when, what needs to be packed, anticipating and planning for the future, which necessitates mental and emotional effort. 2 in 3 felt it was mainly their responsibility for managing their children’s health and emotional well-being.

So it’s really no surprise that women are telling us they simply don’t have the time or headspace to learn something new.

There is no denying that learning something new is going to be a challenge for busy women and particularly for busy mothers. This becomes even more of a challenge when training courses are face to face and set at inconvenient times for mothers.


Our study showed that mental health and anxiety were of most concern for younger mothers with 22% of 18-30-year-olds citing this as a barrier to learning. This drops to just 7% of mothers over 51.

A recent study found that millennials report more stress and anxiety than any other generation. And data shows that working mothers are more stressed than other people – 18% more for mothers with one child, and 40% more for mothers with two children.


It’s likely that the financial pressures (discussed here), additional mental and emotional burdens, loss of confidence and self-esteem and increased stress and anxiety, when combined negatively impact on their overall mindset.

Learning and mindset are closely linked. A successful learner has a growth mindset, a belief that they can succeed and search out opportunities to stretch themselves. They see challenge as an opportunity for growth and aren’t put off by failure. Our data shows that mothers are stressed and squeezed with money, time and headspace - not qualities that contribute to the mental resilience required for a growth mindset.

This blog is an extract from our new report “Locked out of Learning” exploring why mothers aren’t learning and how this is impacting their careers.

100 years ago this month the Ministry of Reconstruction’s adult education committee published its Final Report on Adult Education. This report argued for the importance of adult education for the nation’s welfare and security and laid the foundations for adult education in the UK for decades to come. 100 years on we have commissioned research to examine the impact motherhood has on female careers and employment levels, with a focus on the potential of adult learning as a solution to support mothers into rewarding work.

All this week, we will be sharing further snippets from our research, together with infographics and stories from women that bring life to our key findings, as well as our recommendations for Government, employers and other learning providers. Check out the full report here or the executive summary here.

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