Numerous studies have expanded the understanding of part-time work as a gendered labour market phenomenon. However, there has been little research into how societies perceive women’s part-time work over time. The passage of several decades since women in great numbers entered the labour market in Scandinavia, many in part-time jobs, provides an opportunity to investigate this. We examine ideas about the nature and desirability of part-time work for women based on government advisory commission reports published in Norway between 1978 and 2016. With the gender contract as a conceptual lens, this longitudinal study of ideas demonstrates how a changing national context transformed perceptions of women’s part-time work and the ‘woman worker’. From being a strategy for increasing women’s economic independence and individual choice, part-time work has become undesirable, whereas full-time work for all women is promoted. The ideational and institutional drivers of the politicisation of women’s part-time work are discussed.