Parenthood harms job prospects, say women

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The Independent Online

More than four out of five mothers with young children do not want to return to work because they believe their career prospects are damaged from having a child.

More than four out of five mothers with young children do not want to return to work because they believe their career prospects are damaged from having a child.

Research shows that 81 per cent of mothers would choose to stay at home after giving birth if they could afford to, and only 6 per cent said they enjoyed continuing to work full time. On average women went back to work six months after giving birth, but 82 per cent said they felt less career-minded. Half believed that having a child jeopardised their careers.

In one of the most comprehensive studies of motherhood in Britain, researchers also found that women in the south-west of England take an average of 10 months to conceive, compared to only four months in London, which is the quickest in the country. People in the South-west far prefer to have a girl (83 per cent) than a boy (17 per cent), but elsewhere preferences are more even.

Differing states of health and methods of contraception are thought to be responsible for the sharp regional variations in conception rates, with use of the Pill more prevalent in some areas. Parental attitudes to the ease of bringing up a girl compared with a boy probably account for the preference of most mothers for girls, the researchers said.

Susan de Vere, an independent motherhood consultant and author of the study, said: "Even Cherie Blair would rather have a girl. Girls are seen as easier than boys to deal with when they are babies. As they grow up they are perceived as more diligent [and] work harder at school, but tend to cause parents more worry when they become teenagers."

The study of more than 2,000 women who had at least one child showed that more than 90 per cent of fathers now attend their children's births. Men in the North-west are most likely to find the experience an ordeal, with 3 per cent passing out and 15 per cent feeling queasy.

Up to half the women interviewed said they had chosen their partners for fatherhood potential. Although more than two-thirds of women were keen for their babies to inherit their partners' personality, few wanted their children to have their fathers' physical characteristics. Only one in five women from Wales said they wanted their baby to inherit their partner's looks, and only one in seven from the North-west wanted their children to grow up with his physique.

The study, commissioned by Mother and Baby magazine, showed that women from the south of England were most likely to experience post-natal depression, with 19 per cent saying they suffered from it.

The findings showed that births have become much more "hi-tech" over the past 10 years, with greater use of drugs and more intervention such as Caesareans. "Women are far more worried about pregnancy and birth than they were in the mid-Eighties," said Mrs de Vere. "They are more likely to have a 'hi-tech' hospital birth because they have lost confidence in motherhood and are worried about things going wrong."

More than four out of 10 mothers returning to work would prefer grandparents to look after their children - rather than using a nursery or childminder - because they trusted them more.

Women in London were most prepared to place their children in a private nursery, with 37 per cent ready to do so. Mothers in East Anglia preferred childminders.