An eleven-year study has revealed that only one in 10 women manages to hold down a full-time job in the decade after having her first child.
Based on interviews with 1,500 women since 1998, the findings challenge previous data from "snapshot" surveys suggesting that between 25 and 40 per cent combine motherhood and work.
The study, published yesterday by the Economic and Social Research Council, indicated that the large majority of women resuming full-time work were professional people in their thirties. The main factors behind their return to work were flexibility from their employers and the ability to pay for childcare over several years. However they were the most likely to separate from the fathers of their first children.
Professor Susan McRae, the report's author, based her conclusions on interviews with women aged 15 to 40 conducted four times between 1988 and 1999.
Researchers noted that during this decade the decline in manufacturing industries led to increasing numbers of women taking part-time employment in emerging service industries.
The study found a dramatic increase over the past two decades in the proportion of women who returned to work within one year of childbirth, from 24 per cent in 1979 to 67 per cent in 1996. The rise in the proportion working full-time within one year of having a baby has been even more spectacular, from 5 per cent in 1979 to 24 per cent in 1996.
But Professor McRae, of the school of social sciences and law at Oxford Brookes University, said while the number of mothers with children under five years in paid work had doubled in the past decade, they were reluctant or unable to mix full-time jobs with motherhood.
The report suggested that the extent and continuity of women's full-time employment after they become mothers has been overstated by previous research. Professor McRae said: "Data compiled over the longer term now indicates that more than 10 years after the birth of a first baby, fewer mothers are actually in full-time employment than there had been within the first 12 months of that birth."
The study found that women who returned to full-time work were at the greatest risk of separating from their partner at the time of the birth.
The group containing mainly professional women had experienced the most marital disruption, and of those with partners at the birth of their first child only 73 per cent remained with the same man. Only 35 per cent of this category, identified as the "I want a career and children" type, went on to have more than one child.
The group deemed to have best managed the balance between work and child-rearing comprised younger women with semi-professional or clerical jobs and were identified as the "I want children and a job" mothers. Of these, 90 per cent were married and 92 per cent stayed with the father of their first child. They achieved a balance between work and family by taking on part-time work only, and more than one third had at least two children.
A third group found it almost impossible to return to work. The "my family is my job" type had a "working-class" lifestyle and gave up employment on becoming a mother. This was often related to difficulties finding work or affordable childcare.Reuse content