Mothers in employment in Northern Ireland: Source of variation
Women’s employment rate has increased and continued to do so for the last two decades. The increasing participation of women in paid work has been driving the gender gaps in labour force participation rates down. In Northern Ireland, the gap between men and women’s participation in paid work is the highest in the UK. At UK level, the main reason, 40%, given by the women for not participating in paid work is “looking after family/home”. A mother’s decision to return to work after having a child is based on various factors at individual, household and societal levels.
Identifying personal, household characteristics and local market condition which influence women’s participation in paid work is a first step in understanding the mechanism driving women’s decision whether to return to work or not after childbirth. An important aspect in this mechanism that discourages mother to look for paid work is poor access to childcare and the affordability of childcare. A mother’s attitude to return to work after childbirth is also dependent on the household situation. Family circumstances, such as the employment condition of their partners, are important predictors of their labour force participation. Single mothers’ prospects of returning to paid work after childbirth are usually lower and it is highly correlated with the type of employment pre-birth (e.g. high-status occupation employment pre-birth vs a lower status employment pre-birth). The employment status of mothers is conditioned by the type and conditions of the job and consistent with the household need, such as working hours, child arrangements and child responsibilities.
Women’s labour force participation and consequently maternal employment is vital in a developed economy. Knowing the conditions that influence the return to work after childbirth might help shape new policy regarding access to affordable and sustainable childcare as well as state support during and after pregnancy. The support of a family through the length of paid parental leave, public provision of childcare (as it is the case of some Scandinavian and European countries with higher female participation in the labour market) and flexible working arrangements, mothers have higher chances to return to work after childbirth.
The findings will be shared with relevant Government bodies and possibly presented at the Northern Ireland Assembly Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series.
Research team/lead researcher
Dr Ana Corina Miller (Queen's University Belfast)
Dr Dermot O’Reilly (Queen's University Belfast)