Two-speed road to gender equality – unequal labour market attachment of mothers


Author: M. Vaalavuo*

28/10/2015 – We recently wrote about maternal employment. We illustrated the great variation across countries in employment rates of mothers of young children and concluded that various institutional factors and policies impact on the access of mothers to the labour market.

However, as shown in our analysis in Employment and Social Developments in Europe 2015, personal characteristics of mothers also play a very significant role. On average in the EU, a greater number of children in the household, low education and immigrant background reduce the likelihood of being employed, while being single parent, older mother and highly educated increase it.

One of the key determinants of mothers’ working status is her educational level – this applies to women in general as well. Data from 2014 shows that most EU Member States have already achieved the Europe 2020 employment target of 75 % for highly educated mothers of children below 6 years old (note that for highly educated fathers, no country has employment rate below 90 %). Clear exceptions are Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic where less than half of the highly educated mothers work.


When it comes to mothers with low formal qualifications, the picture is much gloomier. In the EU as a whole, only 36.3 % of them are employed compared to 77.6 % of the highly educated mothers (respective figures for fathers are 74.4 and 95.2 %). The share is as low as 15.8 % in Czech Republic where low educated fathers have however an employment rate of 70.2 %. Only Lithuania, Luxembourg and Portugal reach employment rates of more than 60 per cent for this group.

The employment gap between low and high educated mothers is enormous, on average 41.3 percentage points (for fathers it is 20.8), but even more than 50 percentage points in Ireland, France, Malta, Belgium and Croatia. This shows that gender equality remains largely unachieved when we go beyond aggregate figures and look at gender and class together.

While in some countries the number of low educated mothers is quite small in general, it is important to understand the diversity in mothers’ circumstances when we try to facilitate the access to the labour market. In addition to family policies, like providing high quality and affordable childcare, it is also fundamental for low skilled women to have access to quality jobs guaranteeing a living wage (including the possibility of in-work benefits) and working conditions that are compatible with child rearing (e.g. paid parental leave, and flexible but predictable working hours). These are also the families in which the children are more likely to benefit from the positive cognitive and psycho-social effects of high quality early childhood education and care.

Furthermore, policies should be evaluated from the equity perspective – are everyone in equal position to benefit from various policies or do they have differential impacts for example depending on the socioeconomic status of the parent?


Author: M. Vaalavuo works as a socio-economic analyst at the Social Analysis unit of DG EMPL.

Source: European Commission, Employment – Social Affairs and Inclusion – News


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