Gender equality at work

Understanding Society data used for Government Equalities Office report.

Women opt out of employment after childbirth, or move to part-time work or jobs with a lower status, according to a new case study from Understanding Society.

The case study uses data from Understanding Society, collected between 2009 and 2017, to understand the extent to which women ‘downgrade’ their careers after having children. Women with children work less and earn less than those without children, and research has shown mothers’ employment rates falling by 20%, and full-time employment by 44%, after the birth of a first child. Mothers who remain in work also see a sharp drop in the rate of wage growth following childbirth.

One explanation for this is that taking time out to raise children, or going back to work part-time, may damage women’s chances to progress in their careers. Alternatively, women who return to work may take up jobs with a lower occupational status than they had before, or their careers progress more slowly than those of childless women or men.

The case study is based on Employment pathways and occupational change after childbirth, a report by Susan Harkness, Magda Borkowska and Alina Pelikh for the Government Equalities Office as part of its Workplace and Gender Equality Research Programme.

The research showed that fewer than 20% of all new mothers have a full-time career after having a baby, while 90% of men are in full-time work or self-employed three years after childbirth.

The case study concludes that “Employment patterns are gendered after childbirth, with men typically remaining in full-time work (or moving into it) and women withdrawing from full-time work. Those women who return to work typically see their chances of promotion decrease.

“A woman’s chances of moving up or down the career ladder are the same whether she goes back to work full- or part-time, but those who return to work after a break are more likely to move to a lower grade job. Even when women return to the same job, they are much less likely to progress at work than men.”

Download the case study: Gender equality at work