Annual Report 2006‚Äď2007

Mothers' labour market participation

This section presents preliminary results of research using data from Waves 1 and 2, conducted by Matthew Gray and Jennifer Baxter.

There are very often changes in mothers' employment following the birth of a child, and understanding the extent to which mothers with young children move in and out of employment is important information for those interested in the impact of childbearing on labour market participation. This section describes how the labour market participation of mothers changed between Wave 1 and 2. The analysis is restricted to families who participated in both waves.

Maternal labour market dynamics

Overall, the employment rate of mothers increased between Wave 1 and 2. For mothers with a study child who was an infant in Wave 1, the employment rate increased from 37 per cent at Wave 1 to 49 per cent two years later, and the proportion on extended leave fell from 13 per cent to 7 per cent. For mothers with a 4-5 year old study child at Wave 1, the employment rate increased from 52 to 59 per cent and the proportion on extended leave was 4 and 6 per cent at Waves 1 and 2 respectively. Many of the mothers with a study child aged 4 to 5 years in Wave 1 who were on extended leave also had a younger child.

However, the picture is one of significant change when the extent to which mothers remained in the same employment status or changed employment status between 2004 (Wave 1) and 2006 (Wave 2) is examined, as shown in Table 5. Of mothers with an infant study child who were employed in Wave 1, 76 per cent were still employed at Wave 2 and 24 per cent were no longer employed at Wave 2. Among mothers with an infant who were not employed at Wave 1, 34 per cent were employed and 66 per cent were not employed 2 years later.

Table 5 - Changes in maternal employment between Wave 1 and Wave 2 by age of study child

Wave 1 (2004) Wave 2 (2006) Number of observations
Employed Not employed
% %
Infant (B) cohort
Employed
76
24
1,746
Not employed
34
66
2,824
4-5 year old (K) cohort
Employed
82
18
2,394
Not employed
35
65
1,98

Note: Those on extended leave are classified as being not employed.
Source: Growing Up in Australia, Waves 1 and 2

Mothers with a study child aged 4-5 years who were employed in Wave 1 had a slightly lower rate of movement out of employment (18 per cent) than employed mothers with an infant study child in Wave 1. For mothers with a 4-5 year old who were not employed at Wave 1, 65 per cent were not employed at Wave 2 and 35 per cent were employed. These rates of movement out of employment were similar to those of mothers with an infant.

Overall, there was more stability in the group of mothers who were employed and at work than there was in the other groups. This group of mothers grew as mothers returned from leave or entered employment following an absence from work. The transitions out of work were smaller in terms of the proportions affected, resulting in the net increase in maternal employment observed between Waves 1 and 2.

It is interesting to examine the employment transitions of mothers who were on leave (for example, on maternity leave) at Wave 1 (classified as not employed in the previous data). Of mothers with an infant study child who were on extended leave at Wave 1, 56 per cent were employed two years later. The remaining 44 per cent were not employed, including 16 per cent on leave from work and 28 per cent not on leave.

Almost one-third (31 per cent) of mothers with an infant at Wave 1 had another child between Waves 1 and 2. The birth of another child has a very significant impact upon employment changes. For example, of the mothers who were employed at Wave 1, 84 per cent remained working at Wave 2 if they had no new children. In contrast, of those employed at Wave 1 who had another child, only 58 per cent were employed at Wave 2 and 18 per cent were on extended leave.

Many of the families with a 4-5 year old study child had a younger child (46 per cent at Wave 1). The presence of a younger sibling has a big impact on employment status. At Wave 1, of mothers with a 4-5 year old study child who had a younger sibling, 45 per cent were employed. For mothers whose youngest child was aged 4-5 years, 60 per cent were employed.

Employment of mothers in single- and couple-parent families

One of the most dramatic changes to Australian families in recent decades has been the increase in the number of single-parent households. In Wave 1, 10 per cent of the infant cohort and 14 per cent of the 4-5 year old cohort lived in a single-parent household. By Wave 2, 13 per cent of the infant cohort and 17 per cent of the 4-5-year cohort were in single-parent households.

Maternal employment differs considerably according to whether the family is a single- or couple-parent family, with single mothers less likely to be employed. However, the gap between couple and single mothers narrows as children get older (Figure 8). The difference in employment rates of couple and single mothers was 19 per cent for mothers with a study child aged 0-1 years, 17 per cent for 2-3 year old children, 12 per cent for 4-5 year old children, and 9 per cent for 6-7 year old children.

Figure 8 - Maternal employment, by age of study child and family type, Waves 1 and 2

Figure 8

Source: Growing Up in Australia, Waves 1 and 2

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