Just had a baby! When are you going back to work? A durational analysis of returns to work for new UK mothers in the 21st century

Karon Gush, University of Essex

In contrast to earlier generations, today’s UK mothers are more likely to engage in paid market work whilst still in the phase of active motherhood. In the context of these social and cultural developments regarding ‘working mothers’, the aim of this paper is to establish the extent to which differing childcare options enable mothers to reconcile the demands of motherhood and employment identity. Finding high quality and affordable childcare in the UK is acknowledged to be difficult. However, for those women who elect to return to employment after childbirth, this is precisely what they need to do. Mothers return to work for a variety of reasons. For example, they do so to maintain investment in a career, to earn money, for social contact, and so on; but whatever the motivation, they are dependent on the supply of childcare, given that somebody must look after the children. Using two waves of the UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), this paper constructs mothers’ full employment and childcare usage histories from the point of the child’s birth up to the age of around three years. Using event history analysis, it evaluates the chances of a return to work for these mothers in relation to the childcare options they use. The findings show clear indications that childcare is an important factor in the speed of return to work, but with differential influence depending on the type of childcare. Perhaps predictably, the financial cost of childcare is shown to be an important factor; but being able to organise arrangements within the household is also critical in earlier returns. More surprisingly, there is little evidence associating the trustworthiness of the carer with speed of return. Furthermore, differences in chances of return by occupational class appear to be heavily linked to specific childcare usages.

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Presented in Session 66: Work-family balance in Europe