Mothers less likely to progress at work following childbirth, research study claims

Women are less likely to progress at work following the birth of a child compared to men, according to a study.

Researchers at the universities of Bristol and Essex followed how childbirth affected employment and career progression in more than 3,500 new parents.

They found only 27.8% of women were in full-time or self-employed work three years after childbirth, compared to 90% of new fathers.

While 26% of men were promoted or moved to a better job in the five years after their baby was born, the figure was 13% for women.

Researchers say their findings, in a report for the Government Equalities Office, suggest that women suffer economically and become stuck at work following childbirth, while there is no impact on fathers.

In the study, data from Understanding Society was used to follow 2,281 mothers and 1,687 fathers for three or five years after their baby was born.

It found that mothers increasingly withdraw from employment over time, with the more children a woman has reducing the likelihood that she will work full-time.

Professor Susan Harkness, from the School of Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, said: “The results of our study highlight how gendered employment patterns are following childbirth, with men typically remaining in full-time work and women leaving full-time work.

“This loss in work experience, and in particular full-time work experience, is an important part of the explanation for the gender pay gap and suggests women still suffer economically as a result of taking on childcare responsibilities.

“Worryingly, it appears that women who return to employment typically see their chance of moving up the occupational ladder decrease.

“Women who return to the same employer risk becoming stuck in their job roles with limited career progression.”

The study involved 2,281 women who had given birth between 2010 and 2014. Of these women, 43% were first-time mothers.

Less than one in five of all mothers returned to full-time work in the first three years after maternity leave. This fell to 15% after five years.

The study found 17% of women left employment completely in the five years following childbirth, compared to 4% of men.

In the year before birth, the man was the main earner in 54% of couples but this increased to 69% three years after birth.

In couples where the woman earned the most prior to birth, just 46% remained the main earner three years later.

Dr Alina Pelikh, from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex, said: “While we’ve only looked at the first five years following a child being born, all these factors suggest that the patterns we’ve observed are unlikely to be reversed as children grow older.

“We still need to better understand the reasons why many women do not return to full-time work and encourage policies that enable women reconcile work and family life.”

A spokesman for the Government Equalities Office said there had been record rates of female employment this year, particularly among single parents.

“The careers of talented women should not be held back because they take time out of their jobs to care for a loved one,” he said.

“That’s why we are investing in returners to work – giving them the opportunity to refresh and grow their skills. By acting on this issue we can grow the economy and achieve true equality in our workplaces.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire.

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