• Most mothers ‘forced to give up work after second child’

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  • 8 Aug 2016
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Study suggests low-skilled workers struggle with cost of childcare, as take-up of shared parental leave reaches just 1.5 per cent

Working mothers in low-skilled jobs are being forced to either considerably reduce their hours or give up work altogether after having a second child, according to a wide-ranging study that suggests lack of access to childcare has a profound effect on the labour market.

While having one child has a relatively limited effect on workforce participation, women in low-skilled jobs reduced the amount they worked each week by an average of 18 hours after the arrival of their second child, according to the study from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Those in skilled roles worked an average of five hours less per week. The study, which examined 3,000 UK women who had their first child between 2000 and 2001, also found that the proportion of women in unskilled jobs working more than 20 hours a week dropped by more than half (50 per cent) after they had their second child.

In total, 60 per cent of women with one child aged under four were working to some extent, but the figures dipped dramatically when a second child arrived.

Researchers concluded that women in lower-skilled jobs were severely affected by the cost of childcare: the latest figures from the Family and Childcare Trust put the cost of a nursery place at £212 per week outside London and £284 in the capital.

Claudia Hupkau, one of the LSE economists who worked on the research, said many working women simply do not have the option to choose between working and taking care of their children. “It is often thought that women stay at home because they want to, but the reality seems to be that they often do not have a choice, or indeed that going back would make them financially worse off,” she said.

The figures coincide with the announcement of the first quantifiable data about take-up of shared parental leave, which was introduced in April 2015. According to HMRC figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, just 3,000 families took advantage of the benefit in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to around 1.5 per cent of the 207,000 parents on standard maternity or paternity leave in this period.

The figures are broadly consistent with an estimate from the TUC, which in 2015 said it believed take-up was running at less than 1 per cent. Sarah Jackson, CEO of work-life balance charity Working Families, said organisations could be doing more to help support shared parental leave: “Employers have a really important role to play to improve understanding of what shared parental leave is.”

Bertille Calinaud, senior inclusion and diversity consultant at Inclusive Employers, said employers needed to encourage working parents to see the advantages of continuing to work after having children, as well as promoting shared parental leave. “Employers could use other employees who balance work and family life as examples, and ask them to share their positive experiences. This is a great opportunity to shift workplace cultures to create inclusive and agile companies,” she said. “Employers also need to ensure they support new parents, and ensure all their staff can work flexibly by focusing on the outcomes of their work instead of where and when they work.”

The government said it had created more than 900,000 childcare places since 1998 and was offering 30 hours of free childcare to all three and four-year-olds from next year. But critics have expressed concern that this scheme may prove unworkable in practice because of a lack of childcare places.

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  • The cost of child care can outweigh the cost of returning to work. I recall after birth of my second we looked at putting him into nursery our daughter was at. It was a shock and he ended up with a child minder which meant early start in morning with child minder and nursery to visit. I wanted to return to work. We needed the money with high rates on mortgage. However I didn't expect government to help us out as children were our responsibility and we choose to have them. What did help was child care vouchers through my employer and access to support in finding a child minder.

  • Cheaper child care costs if you use relatives, really?

    I used to pay my in-laws the going rate for child care when I returned to work in the early 1990s, and I commuted into London on reduced hours. I was on a good management salary too but it wasn't worth my while commuting up to London for just two days a week. I reluctantly resigned from this post in 1993 shortly after returning from my second maternity leave. Since then I've worked in part time advisory roles or opted for voluntary work but never returned to a management role. No regrets, I made my choice at the time but would like to see more employers offer part time hours, job shares or other flexible working arrangements to help the next generation of mothers combine their careers with family commitments.

  • It's a combination of factors such as household income, occupation, availability and affordability of childcare and the lack of flexible working, particularly at professional or senior levels. It may also depend on how much a woman enjoys her job or career, although I accept that many women have little choice but to work in some capacity and contribute to the family income. But are they really "forced" to give up work after having their second child? Some decide to give up work because they enjoy being at home with their young families and prefer this to employment but are reluctant to admit this due to the huge social pressure to remain economically active or "career minded".

    I was lucky that I did have a choice when I decided to leave work, shortly after returning from my second maternity leave in 1992. I had reduced my hours after my first maternity leave in 1990 but this was no longer sustainable due to a change of senior management, two young children, higher childcare costs and commuting to London for just two days a week, even on a good salary. I wouldn't say I was "forced out" but it was disappointing to give up a management job I enjoyed. Since then I've worked in part time advisory roles or opted for voluntary work. No regrets, I made my decision many years ago, but it would be good to see more employers offering part time hours, job shares and other flexible working arrangements to employees and job seekers to ensure that mothers can combine work with their family responsibilities, and employers can benefit from their skills and talent.

  • This article fails to mention the fact that many working women can rely on relatives to cover their childcare, meaning that they can earn the same working part-time as a colleague working full-time who has to pay childcare costs. It is a very unfair playing field for those without family support, and women can be pilloried for being 'full-time working mothers' by those who have family support on tap. The only solution is to put blinkers on and do what you think is best for your own family and circumstances.

    There is the issue of what the partner earns as well, if the partner has a good job, or enough to keep things together for a few years, then there is no point for a mother in battling away in a low paid job when they can get a similar one in future at any time.

    Culture, particularly in rural areas, still goes against 'working mothers', which is another factor this article possibly needs to include. Add to that that people generally are starting families later and may have enough put by for one partner to focus for a few years on the children. As this article suggests, many mothers would like to continue working but the cost of childcare is prohibitive, however there are also women hapoy to have a reason to give up work.

    'Shared Parental Leave' could involve a 'swop' in location implications, commute times, the degree of flexibility in each partner's role - for anyone who has ever navigated the logistics of arranging childcare, 'swopping it' it half way through the leave period is probably a challenge they'd prefer to avoid. And, given the cost of living, the Maternity Leave period may be the mother's only opportunity, long term, to enjoy being a full-time mum, before financial reality kicks in.

    As this article suggests, many women would like to continue working but the cost of childcare is prohibitive, however, there are some women who don't want to work and childcare costs give them a reason not to for a finite or. Infinite period.

    I don't think the 'stats' are all about childcare costs, other factors come into play - and in HR we need to be aware of those to keep the best people contributing to the workforce..

  • Sorry I have no sympathy with them. It's a lifestyle they chose for themselves. There appears to be a belief that the state should step in and support all the people all the time. But money is a finite item and soon runs out.

    I recall in the 70's 'WE' decided to start a family, and were blessed with a beautiful daughter. I was a low wage earner working nights, we couldn't survive on one wage, so after my shift I took responsibility for our child as my wife went to work. Later moving onto the 'early shift' which started at 6am, I'd get our daughter up at 4am, dress and feed her a boiled egg and walk her through the snow to the wife who managed to get night work at the hospital which finished at 6am.

    Even after working nights sleep was a luxury we didn't always get. But we didn't feel someone else should take responsibility it was our choice.

    Our daughter? Well she's a Doctor of Engineering who we put through public school and went without holidays and new cars for over 20 years. If you want something go get it, but don't expect my taxes to support you.