Growing Up in Scotland ( GUS) is a longitudinal research study which tracks the lives of thousands of children and their families in Scotland, from the early years, through childhood and beyond. This report draws on data collected from mothers in Birth Cohort 1 ( BC1) and Birth Cohort 2 ( BC2) when the cohort children were aged 10 months, 3 years and 5 years. For BC1, this means drawing on data collected in 2005/06, 2009/10 and 2008/09. For BC2 the corresponding data were collected in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
The report explores changes to mothers’ employment status and trajectories over time, examines the characteristics of mothers who were unable to find paid work, and looks at the main barriers these mothers face. It also identifies a number of characteristics and circumstances which appear to be associated with an increased likelihood of mothers giving up paid work after having a child and not returning within five years. In doing so, it addresses a number of questions relevant to policy makers and others who are seeking to enable and support mothers with young children who want to work but face barriers to doing so. For example, what are the main barriers faced by mothers who want to work? Who are the mothers most in need of support and how can they be supported?
Definition Of Key Terms:
Mothers looking for work: Mothers who were not in paid work at the time of interview and reported that they had looked for paid work in the last four weeks.
Mothers not looking for work: Mothers who were not in paid work at the time of interview and reported that they had not looked for paid work in the last four weeks.
Mothers who left work after having a child: Mothers who were in paid work while they were pregnant with the cohort child but were not in work either when the child was aged 10 months*, 3 years or 5 years.
*Mothers who were on maternity leave were defined as being in paid work.
Changes in maternal employment between the two cohorts
- Mothers who had a child in 2010/11 (mothers in BC2) were more likely to be in paid work than mothers who had a child in 2004/05 (mothers in BC1). For example, when the child was aged 10 months, 62% of mothers in BC2 were in work compared with 58% of mothers in BC1.
- In both cohorts, the proportion of mothers who were in paid work increased as the cohort child grew older. In BC2, the proportion of mothers in work increased from 62% when the child was aged 10 months to 70% when the child was 5 years old.
- Mothers who had a child in 2010/11 were also more likely to remain in work after childbirth and during the first five years of their child’s life. For example, in 2015, 21% of mothers of 5 year old children had not been in paid work at any of the three time points considered – i.e. they were out of work when the child was aged 10 months, 3 years and 5 years – compared with 24% of mothers of 5 year olds in 2009/10.
- The analysis found no evidence of any change in the proportion of mothers who were not in paid work and looking for work between the cohorts  , suggesting that barriers to maternal employment have not eased over time. For example, at the time the cohort child was aged 3, 6% of mothers in both cohorts were looking for work.
Characteristics of mothers looking for work and mothers who left work after having a child and had not returned by the time the child was aged 5
- Across all three child age points examined – 10 months, 3 years and 5 years – mothers who were looking for work tended to be younger than those who were in paid work and those who were not in paid work and were not looking for work. They also had lower educational qualifications and were considerably more likely to be in lower income households than other mothers.
- Mothers who gave up work after having a child and had not returned by the time the child was aged 5 tended to live in less advantaged circumstances than mothers who remained in or returned to work within the first five years after childbirth. For example, those who left work were more likely to be younger, to be single mothers, and to be living in the most deprived areas. They were also less likely to have a degree or to have been working in professional or managerial occupations.
- When controlling for the influence of other factors, being a single mother, having lower levels of educational qualifications, having another child before the cohort child turned 5, and the cohort child having a long-term health condition all independently predicted giving up work and not having returned by the time the child was aged 5.
- Interestingly, among mothers living with a partner who was in work, those who gave up work were more likely than those who remained in or returned to work to have a partner who was on a low income but were just as likely to be living with a partner on a high income.
Barriers to maternal employment
- Mothers in BC2 who were looking for paid work were asked – when their child was aged 10 months, 3 years and 5 years – what they believed was the main reason why they had not managed to find work. The main reasons given were that no suitable jobs were available, childcare issues, and not having looked very hard (often because they preferred to stay at home to look after their child or children). A lack of qualifications and experience to be able to compete with others in the job market was also mentioned, as were issues with organising transport.
- At the time the child was aged 10 months, by far the most commonly referenced reason was a lack of suitable jobs (53% of mothers who were looking for work at this point quoted this reason). By the time the child was aged 5 this had dropped to around a quarter of the mothers looking for work  .
- Issues with childcare were mentioned by a substantial minority of mothers at each age point. These included difficulties with arranging childcare as well as mentions of childcare simply being too expensive to make working worthwhile. There was some indication that childcare was perceived as more of a barrier as the child approached age 5 – while just 14% of the mothers of 10 month old children who were looking for work referenced childcare issues as a barrier to finding work, 26% of mothers of 5 year olds  who were looking for work did so.
- Notably, childcare issues appeared to be a significant barrier among single mothers even when the child was a baby. For example, at the time the child was aged 10 months, 19% of single mothers who were looking for work quoted childcare issues as a barrier to finding work, compared with 10% of partnered mothers.
Implications for policy
- The findings suggest a number of ways in which mothers could be supported to enter, re-enter or remain in work after having a child (details in chapter 6 ).
- First, initiatives seeking to support mothers to enter, re-enter or remain in work need to take into account a mother’s level of education and skills. In the short term, this could include efforts to support mothers to gain further skills and qualifications. Notably, however, any such initiatives would need to go hand in hand with efforts to ensure that mothers consider continuing their education or learning new skills to be a worthwhile pursuit.
- Second, ensuring that secure and well-paid part time positions are available across all skill levels is also likely to benefit mothers looking to enter, re-enter or remain in work after having a child.
- Other forms of family-friendly working are also likely to benefit mothers looking to work. For example, being able to work from home and/or to work only during school hours, and being able to take time off at short notice without pay penalties or other negative repercussions. This could be particularly important for mothers who care for a child with a long-term health condition.
- Third, ensuring that suitable childcare is available – including for children under the age of one – may help some mothers (back) into work after having a child. This could be of particular importance for single mothers who will in most cases be their child’s primary and sole carer.
- In addition, a targeted approach to supporting the needs of young mothers may be warranted. Given the multitude of challenges young mothers often face, such initiatives would likely benefit from straddling a range of policy areas, including, for example, health, education, employment, housing, and welfare. Also, given the strong link between being in paid work during pregnancy and remaining in, or returning to work after childbirth, promoting links between, for example, pregnant women and a potential future employer may be another avenue worth exploring.
- In conclusion, the needs of mothers who need support to enter, re-enter or remain in work are complex and diverse. Initiatives aiming to support these mothers need to take this into account and must consider the wider context in which mothers make their decisions about paid work. For example, support with job seeking on its own is unlikely to help many mothers into work.
- Thus, longer term initiatives to address the poorer working conditions often associated with low skilled work – such as low pay, insecurity and a lack of flexibility – are likely to be required. If the aim is to support all mothers who want to enter, re-enter or remain in paid work – irrespective of their level of skills or experience – paid work must be perceived as something that is worthwhile and which is not a source of stress or worry about how to combine paid work with other responsibilities.
Email: Ganka Mueller
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House