Women more likely to reduce hours than men after birth of children, study finds

A woman with her husband eight months into her pregnancy (Katie Collins/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Women are more likely than men to reduce their hours or stop working when they have children – even if they earn more, new analysis shows.

Women’s employment rates fall from 90% to 75% and average weekly hours fall from around 40 to less than 30 when they become mothers, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said.

The arrival of children also marks the beginning of a long period of wage stagnation for women, it said, while the wages, employment and working hours of men “barely change” when they become fathers.

The findings, based on an analysis of data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study, are published as part of the ongoing IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities, funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

In heterosexual couples where men are the primary earner, women’s employment rates and hours of paid work fall by 22% and 33% on average when children arrive.

However, 13% of women who earn more than their male partner leave work after their child is born, compared to just 3% of men who are the higher earners.

The mothers who continue to work experienced a 26% reduction in hours on average, the IFS said.

The IFS said gender gaps in employment, working hours and wages “open up in earnest” after workers become parents.

It said the large decline in women’s paid work after childbirth “cannot, in general, be explained by couples prioritising the paid work of the higher-wage parent”.

Alison Andrew, a senior research economist at IFS and report author, said: “The gendered roles of men and women in paid work and childcare after heterosexual couples start families play a crucial part in the development of the gender pay gap, and gender differences in careers more generally.

“How these parents divide up paid work and childcare cannot be straightforwardly explained by (smaller) pre-existing differences in their career trajectories.

“Even where the mother was the main earner before having a child, she is much more likely to give up work or reduce her hours after becoming a parent than is the father.

“The roots of these gender differences cannot all be traced back to which parent was in the better position, career-wise, to be the primary breadwinner.

“Attempts to understand and address gender pay gaps must consider the role of social norms and maternity and paternity policies – and the links between the two – in driving men’s and women’s roles after childbirth.”

Mark Franks, director of welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Decisions couples make about how to balance paid employment and parenting are not based solely on who earns more, but they do have long-term consequences for mothers in terms of salary progression and a widening of the gender pay gap.

“Policies designed to address that gap need to be based on understanding of the role of social norms in driving decisions made by parents, which are evident in how mothers have picked up the additional parenting demands resulting from recent school closures.

“Parental leave policies and employer practices primarily focused on women will reinforce such effects.”