How Women of Different Socio-Economic Status Approach to Working After Birth
Having a child is a life-changing event that affects women’s employment and earnings in different ways. Depending on their socio-economic status, women may face different challenges and opportunities when deciding whether to work, how much to work, and where to work after giving birth. In this blog post, we will explore some of the factors that influence women’s choices and outcomes in the labor market after becoming mothers.
Labor Force Participation
One of the most noticeable effects of having a child is the drop in women’s labor force participation, which measures the share of women who are either working or looking for work. According to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau, using data from 2006 to 2016, the share of women who are working falls by 18 percentage points in the quarter they give birth to their first child. For women who only have one child, the rate of workforce participation remains at a lower level than before birth, but stabilizes. However, subsequent births decrease workforce participation further.
The decision to work or not after having a child depends on various factors, such as the availability and affordability of childcare, the flexibility and benefits of the job, the income and preferences of the partner, and the social norms and expectations of the society. Women from different socio-economic backgrounds may face different trade-offs and constraints when making this decision.
For example, a study by Understanding Society, using data from the UK, found that women’s likelihood of returning to work in the years after birth is independent of the number of children they have; what matters to their likelihood of working is their employment status the year before their child is born. This suggests that women who have stable and secure jobs before having a child are more likely to return to work than those who do not. Moreover, women who have higher levels of education and income are more likely to work full-time after having a child than those who have lower levels.
On the other hand, women who face barriers to accessing quality childcare, such as low-income or single mothers, may find it more difficult or costly to work after having a child. According to a report by UNICEF, using data from 41 high- and middle-income countries, only 15% of children under three years old have access to formal childcare services. The report also found that childcare costs vary widely across countries, ranging from less than 5% to more than 40% of average family income. These costs can be prohibitive for many families, especially those with low incomes or multiple children.
Earnings and Career Progression
Another effect of having a child is the impact on women’s earnings and career progression. For mothers who continue to work, earnings fall by an average of $1,861 in the first quarter after birth relative to earnings pre-pregnancy or in early pregnancy (three quarters before the birth). But earnings recover to pre-birth levels by the fifth quarter after birth, and rise by an average of $101 per quarter for the next six years. While this recovery is encouraging, it is not large enough to return women to their pre-birth earnings path.
The gap in earnings between mothers and non-mothers can be explained by several factors, such as reduced hours of work, lower wages per hour, occupational downgrading, or lower chances of promotion. Women from different socio-economic backgrounds may experience these factors differently depending on their skills, qualifications, preferences, and opportunities.
For example, a study by the U.S. Census Bureau found that most women who work in the year both before birth and after birth work for the same employer. Only 18% of women who go back to work within a year of having their first child switch employers when they return to the workforce. Women who work for larger, higher-paying employers are more likely to stay with those employers after childbirth. However, staying with the same employer may have both advantages and disadvantages for women’s career progression. On one hand, it may reduce the risk of downward occupational mobility or losing job-specific skills. On the other hand, it may also reduce the chances of upward occupational mobility or gaining new skills.
Another study by Understanding Society found that in the UK, mothers who leave employment completely are three times more likely to return to a lower-paid or lower-responsibility role than those who do not take a break. For new mothers – but not fathers – staying with the same employer is associated with a lower risk of downward occupational mobility but also with lower chances of progression. The study also found that the man was the main earner in 54% of couples in the year before birth, but this increased to 69% three years after birth. This indicates that women’s earnings relative to their partners may also affect their career choices and outcomes after having a child.
The effects of having a child on women’s employment and earnings have important implications for gender equality, poverty reduction, and economic growth. To address these effects, policies should aim to support women’s choices and opportunities in the labor market after becoming mothers. Some of the possible policy interventions include:
– Providing affordable and accessible childcare services for families with young children, especially for low-income or single mothers.
– Promoting flexible work arrangements, such as part-time, telework, or job-sharing, that allow women to balance their work and family responsibilities.
– Enhancing maternity and paternity leave benefits, such as duration, pay, and job protection, that enable women and men to take time off work after having a child without losing their income or career prospects.
– Encouraging employers to adopt fair and transparent practices, such as pay audits, performance reviews, or mentoring programs, that prevent discrimination or bias against mothers in hiring, pay, or promotion decisions.
– Empowering women to access education and training opportunities, especially in high-demand or high-paying sectors, that enhance their skills and qualifications for the labor market.
Having a child is a major life event that affects women’s employment and earnings in different ways. Women from different socio-economic backgrounds may face different challenges and opportunities when deciding whether to work, how much to work, and where to work after giving birth. Policies should aim to support women’s choices and opportunities in the labor market after becoming mothers, as this can benefit not only women themselves, but also their families and the society as a whole.
: Sandler, Danielle H., and Nichole Szembrot. “Cost of Motherhood on Women’s Employment and Earnings.” Census.gov. U.S. Census Bureau. 16 June 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2023.
: Harkness, Susan, Magda Borkowska, and Alina Pelikh. “How Women’s Employment Changes After Having a Child.” Understandingsociety.ac.uk. Understanding Society. 22 Oct. 2019. Web. 15 Oct. 2023.
: UNICEF. “Are the World’s Richest Countries Family Friendly? Policy in the OECD and EU.” Unicef.org. UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. June 2019. Web. 15 Oct. 2023.