6 Conclusions And Implications For Policy
This chapter draws together the findings and considers two questions. First, how can these findings help us answer the key policy questions posed at the outset of the report? And second, what do they tell us about maternal employment in Scotland? In particular, what picture do they paint of mothers of young children who may be facing particular barriers to entering, re-entering or remaining in paid work?
6.1 Addressing the key policy questions
6.1.1 Which mothers need support to secure paid work?
The findings suggest that young mothers may be in particular need of support to secure work – especially teenage mothers. They emerged as a group more likely not to be in paid work and one which was consistently present among those seeking work. This is perhaps unsurprising given that younger mothers tend to have lower levels of education and skills and will also have less work experience – simply as a function of their age. We also know that young mothers are more likely than older mothers to be living in less advantaged socio-economic circumstances (Bradshaw et al., 2014b).
Single mothers appear to be another group which could benefit from additional support to secure employment. For example, being a single mother was independently associated with giving up work after having a child, and single mothers were significantly more likely than partnered mothers to quote childcare issues as a barrier to finding paid work when their child was a baby.
More widely, mothers in lower income households were more likely to be seeking work, and compared with more advantaged mothers those living in less advantaged circumstances were more likely to give up paid work after having a child.
6.1.2 What are the barriers facing mothers who want to work?
One of the main barriers reported by mothers was a lack of suitable jobs. This was by far the most common reason mentioned by mothers when their child was aged 10 months. Specifically, finding suitable part time work is likely to be a particular issue for mothers of children this age. Difficulties finding work within the local area that fitted mothers’ particular skills set was also mentioned. This could suggest that location in itself is likely to be a barrier for some mothers who are looking for work. This may be because the area is particularly remote or because only a limited range of jobs are available.
Mothers also referenced childcare issues as a barrier to finding paid work. These included difficulties with arranging childcare as well as mentions of childcare simply being too expensive to make working worthwhile. There were some indications that childcare was perceived as more of a barrier as the child approached age 5. Notably, however, among single mothers childcare issues appeared to be a significant barrier also when their child was a baby.
In addition, a lack of qualifications and experience to be able to compete with others in the job market was mentioned by some mothers, as were issues with organising transport. The latter is likely to be a particular issue for mothers in less accessible locations  .
Thus, mothers gave a multitude of reasons for not having managed to find paid work. Moreover, the main reasons varied according to the child’s age. This suggests that the barriers to employment that mothers face are multiple, complex and differ according to their specific circumstances – including the age of their child, their level of skills and experience, where they live and whether they are living with a partner. Further research – ideally with a qualitative component – would be desirable in order to gain a fuller understanding of the barriers faced by different groups of mothers, how they co-occur and interact.
6.1.3 How can mothers be supported to start or remain in paid work after having a child, and to remain in work as their child ages?
A mother’s level of education was found to be an important predictor of whether or not she gave up paid work after having a child. This suggests that any initiatives aiming to support mothers to remain in or return to work after childbirth should take into account the mother’s level of skills and educational qualifications. Mothers with no or lower levels of qualifications are likely to have less choice than highly educated mothers when it comes to pursuing paid work. They may also be more likely to be in low-paid jobs with little autonomy and little flexibility to fit work around their family commitments. Thus, in the short term, supporting mothers to gain further qualifications would undoubtedly give mothers with little or no prior qualifications more flexibility to pursue paid work which suits their needs. For example, colleges offering flexible courses and subsidised on-site nurseries could help make further education more accessible to mothers with young children. Notably, though, initiatives focused solely on making further education or skills improvement initiatives more accessible are unlikely to be effective on their own. 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 valuable pursuit. In other words, for education and training-focused initiatives to work, mothers need to see paid work as something worthwhile and they need to see further education as relevant for improving their chances in the labour market.
Further to improving mothers’ level of skills, the research also suggests that it is important to ensure that suitable work is available – particularly part time positions. Crucially, however, part time jobs must be of a secure and well-paid nature and must match mothers’ skills levels. It is also important to address the penalties often incurred from part time employment, including the risk of being trapped in a cycle of part time work-no work (Connolly and Gregory, 2006; for an overview of the literature on penalties associated with part time work see also Fagan and Norman, 2012).
Other forms of family-friendly working are also likely to benefit mothers – 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. Having access to family-friendly working facilities could be particularly important for mothers who care for a child with a long-term health condition. Needless to say, however, if pregnant employees are not aware of such facilities, or if such facilities are not advertised to potential new employees, mothers are unlikely to be aware that such options exist. They may therefore be discouraged from remaining in or applying for a job which appears irreconcilable with their future caring responsibilities.
The findings also suggest that ensuring 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 to being high quality (Bradshaw et al., 2014a), childcare must also be affordable and available at a time and in a location convenient to mothers.
Irrespective of their child’s age, young mothers were particularly likely to be out of work and looking for work. Further reductions to the teenage pregnancy rate may therefore in itself help reduce the number of mothers in need of tailored support to secure paid work. However, we know that many young mothers face multiple forms of disadvantage (e.g. Bradshaw et al., 2014b) and a targeted approach to address the particular needs of young mothers may therefore be warranted. Notably, given the multitude of challenges many young mothers face, initiatives would likely benefit from taking a holistic approach, with the inclusion of both health, education, early years and employment services, rather than simply focusing on one dimension.
Another aspect to consider, perhaps particularly for younger mothers, is that mothers who do paid work while they are pregnant are more likely to remain in work after having a child. As such, connecting pregnant women with an employer during their pregnancy, or other similar approaches, may be worth exploring for initiatives aiming to support young or disadvantaged mothers.
Although mothers who were looking for work were overall more likely to be younger and to live in less advantaged circumstances, they were by no means a homogenous group. For example, a minority of the mothers who were not in paid work but reported that they had looked for work in the last four weeks did not appear to be facing any particular barriers to entering or re-entering paid work. Similarly, mothers who were in paid work while they were pregnant but were subsequently out of work until the child turned 5 were also a very heterogeneous group. They were not all well-off women with high-earning partners, neither were they all mothers living in severely disadvantaged circumstances (although they were more likely to fall into the latter group).
Thus, the needs of mothers who require support to enter, re-enter or remain in work after having a child are complex, and although this report has identified what appear to be some of the key barriers facing mothers who are looking for work, these will be closely intertwined with the mother’s wider situation. For policy makers this suggests that any interventions which aim to support mothers to enter, re-enter or remain in work after childbirth will require a holistic approach. That is, an approach which takes into account mothers’ wider situation and responsibilities and cuts across policy areas – including early years services, education and business initiatives as well as local transport planning – rather than focus on isolated measures such as providing support with job searches or guidance on preparing for or attending job interviews.
Within such a holistic approach, however, it is important not to lose sight of the importance of the nature of the paid work available to mothers. In the longer term, if the aim is to support all mothers who want to enter, re-enter or remain in work after having a child, wider 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. Crucially, initiatives must ensure that paid work – irrespective of a mother’s skills or experience – appears attractive and convenient to mothers with young children. Paid work should be felt by mothers (and everyone else) to be worthwhile, and should not be a source of stress or worry about how to combine paid work with their other responsibilities.
6.1.4 To what extent would an expansion in the provision of affordable childcare support mothers into paid work?
As noted in chapter 4, childcare was mentioned as a barrier to finding work by a substantial minority of mothers of young children in 2015. A quarter of mothers of 5 year old children in Scotland who were looking for work quoted issues with childcare as a reason why they had not managed to find a job. This supports the argument for improving childcare provision in Scotland and highlights the need for both flexible and affordable childcare. The findings also suggest that ensuring suitable childcare is available for the youngest children – including children under the age of one – may help some mothers (back) into work after having a child, particularly single mothers.
An important factor to keep in mind when considering childcare provision as a potential lever for supporting maternal employment is that mothers of young children may not automatically perceive paid work as the best option for them. As shown in this report, a substantial minority of mothers appear to have weighed their options and found that, given the options available to them, engaging in intensive job searches is not worthwhile. Although not specifically covered in the GUS data, it is possible that – alongside other factors – perceived poor quality of a childcare setting or the logistics of dropping off and picking up children at childcare at either end of the working day could influence mothers’ considerations of whether to take on paid work or to remain at home to look after their child or children themselves.
6.1.5 Has there been any progress in supporting maternal employment between 2004/05 and 2010/11?
Overall, mothers who had a child in 2010/11 were more likely than mothers who had a child six years earlier to be in paid work when the child was aged 10 months, 3 years and 5 years. They were also more likely to remain in work after childbirth and during the first five years of their child’s life. In 2015 only 21% of mothers of 5 year old children who were out of work had also been out of work when their child was aged 10 months and 3 years, compared with 24% of mothers of 5 year old children in 2009/10. For policy makers and others who seek to increase mothers’ opportunities to undertake paid work whilst caring for a young child or children, this is a small but encouraging change.
Nevertheless, the analysis found no evidence of any change in the proportion of mothers who were out of work and seeking work. This suggests that barriers to maternal employment were still in place. Furthermore, these barriers appeared to be unevenly distributed. In particular, among mothers who were in work while they were pregnant, those living in less advantaged socio-economic circumstances were more likely than more advantaged mothers to be out of work after having a child. Also, irrespective of their child’s age, younger mothers living in lower income households were more likely than older mothers in more comfortable financial circumstances to be out of work and looking for work.
Thus, the research showed an overall increase in the proportion of mothers of young children who were in paid work. However, it also showed that socio-economic inequalities between mothers remained and that a small minority of mothers with young children were still unable to find suitable paid work.
6.2 Concluding remarks
At an overall level, maternal employment rates in Scotland appear to be improving - mothers living in Scotland who had a child in 2010/11 were more likely to be in employment during the first five years of their child’s life than mothers who had a child six years earlier. Among mothers who had a job while they were pregnant, those who had a child in 2010/11 were also more likely to remain in work until their child was aged 5 compared with mothers who had a child six years earlier. This suggests that the conditions which support maternal employment were better in 2015 than they were six years earlier.
Nonetheless, the findings do indicate that there is still room for improvement. For example, there was no evidence of a change in the overall proportion of mothers who were out of work and looking for work (although numbers were small). For example, in 2015, around one in five 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 their child was aged 10 months, 3 years and 5 years. Thus, barriers to maternal employment remain. Mothers’ own accounts of why they had not managed to find paid work pointed to two main barriers, namely a lack of suitable jobs and issues with arranging suitable childcare. In addition, a significant minority of mothers said that they had not looked very hard – often because they preferred to stay at home to look after their child or children, or because of practical constraints on their availability to take up a job (for example because they were due to move to a different area or were expecting another child). This highlights the complexity of the factors that influence maternal employment, and how mothers’ and their families’ decisions around paid employment reflect both their personal circumstances and wider social, cultural and economic trends.
The research findings also indicate that inequalities among mothers remained. Most strikingly perhaps, irrespective of their child’s age, younger mothers and mothers living in low income households were found to be more likely than older mothers and mothers in higher income households to be out of work and looking for work.
In line with existing research, working during pregnancy was found to be strongly associated with being in paid work after the child’s birth. When looking solely at mothers who worked during pregnancy, single mothers were more likely to give up work after having a child compared with mothers who were living with a partner. In addition, single mothers were particularly likely to quote childcare issues as a barrier to finding paid work when their child was a baby. The findings also suggest that mothers with additional childcare needs – for example, those who had another baby or who were caring for a child with a long-term health condition – were less likely to remain in work after having a child compared with other mothers. Finally, there were some indications that mothers with lower levels of skills and education were more likely than highly skilled mothers to leave paid work after having a child. The findings suggest that part of the explanation for this could be that mothers in highly skilled jobs are more likely to have access to family-friendly working facilities – including, for example, flexibility in how much, where and when they work – although the picture was mixed. Whilst not directly examined here, it is also worth considering the impact of job satisfaction more widely. For example, compared with mothers working in routine or semi-routine occupations, highly skilled mothers in professional or managerial occupations are likely to have a higher degree of autonomy and creativity in their job. In addition, highly skilled women are likely to receive higher levels of pay and they are more likely to be in jobs with career ladders and deferred rewards (Smeaton, 2006). This is likely to make work both more appealing and more rewarding.
In conclusion, the findings presented in this report paint a mixed and rather complex picture of maternal employment in Scotland. On the one hand, in 2015, mothers of young children were more likely to be in paid work than previously. On the other hand, barriers to maternal employment remained and were not evenly distributed. Mothers living in disadvantaged circumstances appeared to be disproportionately unsuccessful in securing work and more likely to leave paid work after having a child. Whilst choosing to give up work after having a child may reflect a mother’s personal preferences, such decisions are made in a context which is heavily influenced by wider social, cultural and economic factors and the support and resources to which a mother and her family have access. As this report has shown, any consideration of maternal employment must take into account the significant variations in mothers’ socio-economic circumstances.
Email: Ganka Mueller
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House