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Women aspire to be housewives - without any of the housework.

Mothers are rejecting equality in the workplace and prefer the idea of becoming full-time housewives - but not ones who actually do housework.

This is the overall conclusion of research among 2,100 British adults that says women are happy to abandon the workplace but not if it means spending all day at home cooking, cleaning and looking after children.

Instead they want to play the "role" of housewife with a little help from, for instance, a nanny, and someone who does the ironing. And unlike Kylie Minogue, they don't want to do any dusting either.

The report, by Marian Salzman, chief strategic officer of Euro RSCG Worldwide, the world's fifth largest advertising agency, describes these women as princess-style "domestic divas" who effectively exploit their husbands. "Today, 'women's lib' means wanting to be liberated from the intense pressures of the modern-day working mum," she said.

"And what we're seeing is a serious gender divide regarding women in the workplace. This time around, it is the women who want to stay at home and the men who want to keep them in the offices and factories."

Miss Salzman, 45, who does not have children, is well known in the United States for spotting trends before they go mainstream. She predicted the rise of 1970s fashion nostalgia and, on the eve of the Bridget Jones phenomenon, spotted that single professional women would become the new, free-spending yuppies.

Her report last year, the Future of Men, predicted that "metrosexuals" - straight men who care about fashion, food and grooming - would be the new target of advertisers.

Yesterday she said 69 per cent of women thought it perfectly acceptable for females to be housewives and not to earn a salary. In contrast, only 48 per cent of men felt that women should remain outside paid employment.

Her research suggested that the motivation to spend more time at home was "self-centred" for some women. "There are many women who choose to stay home out of concern for their children's quality of life," she said. "But there are plenty of others who are paying lip service to being the 2004 version of the perfect mum.

"In reality they are domestic divas who want the flawless kids, courtesy of the nanny; a spotless home, thanks to a cleaning service; and a reputation for being a fabulously put-together homemaker.

"These are the women who are becoming a target of disdain and rage on the part of spouses who didn't expect to be shouldering the financial burden single-handedly."

She said she was not talking about mothers with very young children but those whose offspring were older and in full-time education.

"My two closest friends are stay-at-home women and I have no idea what they do all day. One of them has a daughter at university and a second daughter at high school."

Jill Kirby, the chairman of the family group at the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank, said: "It's very clear that women who have the choice between working and being at home with their children still want to prioritise their home life and life with their children."

She denied claims that women who wanted to be at home were often lazy, with their reliance on paid help. "We can't create a world where people just do what they want," she said, "but women do need fulfilment."

Last week the actress Gwyneth Paltrow reignited the debate over career versus children for working mothers, saying: "I can't understand mothers who put their career before children. There are certain women in this business who have children and I just think 'you must never see them'. You can't do movies back to back and see your child if they go to school."

Holly Hamilton-Bleakley, of Full Time Mothers, a lobbying organisation, said she abhorred the idea of women buying in child care so that they could simply sit in a coffee shop, but she did not believe this was an accurate picture.

"The dual income, two-career family is becoming outdated. Parents are finally recognising that children need time with them. Time spent with children is well spent and makes a major difference to a child's life."

But Miss Salzman said the reality was that women with older children were increasingly becoming self-indulgent. "They look at the realities of paid work - the stress, the politics, the pressure, the dress code - and they say that it would mean less 'me' time.

"And we are not just talking about women who earn lots of money. Women [of all incomes] did not want to work, and men are feeling a great deal of financial pressure.

"Women think: 'What's mine is mine, and what's his is mine'."

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