WOMEN in their 30s and 40s lower their standards and rein in their ambitions, new research has revealed.

A survey found that while younger women are highly aspirational and believe they can have it all, 30 and 40-somethings find that they would be only too happy to give some of it back.

The perceived pressure on women to be not only a wife and mother but also a successful professional, one of the girls, and a fulfilled individual, is becoming too great.

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Media messages portraying this ideal woman are becoming unwelcome. In the future, rather than being expected to meet every demand 100%, women are going to be happy with 70%, the research by Datamonitor, the independent market analysts, claims.

It came as a separate survey for Good Housekeeping magazine found half of working mothers would leave their jobs immediately if they could because of the devastating impact work was having on their lives, ranging from sex to their sanity.

The poll of 1000 women found that well over half also said working full-time had damaged their family life, sometimes causing their children to be unhappy.

Andrew Russell, an analyst with Datamonitor, said: ''Women are given the image of 'yes, you can be a happy wife and settled mother and have a career and all the rest of it' and then they can find themselves trying to deal with all of that it is a lot of work.

''It is not that they want to sacrifice anything in particular but it is more that being forced to live up to the exceptionally high standards whereby you have to win a major contract at work and come home and cook a birthday cake, is too demanding.

''It just isn't something women at that age want to flog themselves to death trying to achieve any more.

''So standards will drop slightly, they will make compromises and find shortcuts and other solutions that just mean life is not so much work.''

Christine Cook, president of the Association of Scottish Businesses, said she believed the trends would be less clear- cut and depend on individuals.

She said: ''I certainly know women who fall into both

categories within those age groups, but equally I know women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who have not lost any of their aspirations.''

In the Good Housekeeping survey, half of those polled said they had lost touch or fallen out with friends because of work pressures and almost as many were too tired to enjoy spending time with their children in the evening.

Virtually all those questioned said having children affected a woman's career prospects. Some said they were too afraid to ask for time off work when their children were ill, believing it would go down as a black mark against them.

The report by Datamonitor outlines the changes in women's demographics, income and spending in western Europe and the US, and has been collated from data and detailed analysis from over 20 years from eight countries: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US.

'I have never really wanted to have a full-time job again'

THE priorities in Claire Weatherston's life changed when she had her first child, and, as the children grew, she continued to reassess her goals.

The former teacher said money and career aims took second place to aspirations that she saw as furthering her own personal development and providing her with fulfilment.

The 47-year-old from Stirling, mother of Catriona, 19, and Michael, 15, and married to Robin, a leading civil servant, said: ''I have never really wanted to have a full-time job again. I have always felt that the children come first.

''My husband was private secretary to the secretary of state and he was spending a lot of the time in London and we were only seeing him for maybe a day or so at the weekend so somebody has to be around to hold the other things together.

''I also have an elderly mother who lives with me and she is coming into her eighties so she has to be considered as well.''

Key findings

In the EU, more women than men are in tertiary education.

Only in the UK does the percentage of 25 to 29-year-old men with a degree outnumber female graduates in the same age group.

Women are starting families later, so, in the future, children will not leave the nest until their parents are in their 50s.

Women who find that their independence has been regained only as they become officially ''senior'' are going to rebel and try to be as young and active as possible for as long as possible.

Women value time more than any other resource, including money.

Women in their 20s and 30s, dubbed the freedom years, have an independent lifestyle which highly values having fun, looking good, close friendships, and self-indulgence.

More than one in 10 said their marriage had broken up because of work, and half said their sex life had suffered.

One in four were delaying starting a family in the hope that their work-life balance would improve if they climbed the career ladder.