Women two thirds less likely than men to get promoted at work after having children

17 per cent of women found to have left employment completely in the five years following childbirth

Sarah Young
Tuesday 22 October 2019 11:16 BST
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Women are significantly less likely than men to be offered a promotion at work after having children, new research suggests.

A report published by the universities of Bristol and Essex for the Government Equalities Office found that just 27.8 per cent of women were in full-time or self-employed work three years after childbirth, compared to 90 per cent of new fathers.

The data also showed that women who did return to work after becoming a parent were two thirds less likely to get promoted in the five years after the child was born compared to their male counterparts with 26 per cent of fathers receiving promotions or moving to a better job compared to 13 per cent of mothers.

Furthermore, 17 per cent of women were found to have left employment completely in the five years following childbirth, compared to four per cent of men.

The researchers conducting the report looked at how childbirth affects employment and career progression across a sample group of more than 3,500 new parents.

The team used data from Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), which followed 2,281 mothers and 1,687 fathers for three or five years after their baby was born.

The results showed that new mothers increasingly withdraw from employment after childbirth, and that the more children a woman has the more likely she is to stop working full-time.

Professor Susan Harkness, from the University of Bristol, said the employment patterns following childbirth could, in part, explain the gender pay gap.

"This loss in work experience, and in particular full-time work experience, is an important part of the explanation for the gender pay gap and suggests women still suffer economically as a result of taking on childcare responsibilities," Harkness said.

"Worryingly, it appears that women who return to employment typically see their chance of moving up the occupational ladder decrease.

"Women who return to the same employer risk becoming stuck in their job roles with limited career progression."

The findings of the study also showed that, in the year before birth, men were the main earner in 54 per cent of couples. However, this increased to 69 per cent three years after birth.

In couples where the woman earned the most prior to having children, just 46 per cent remained the main earner three years later.

Dr Alina Pelikh, from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex, said: “While we've only looked at the first five years following a child being born, all these factors suggest that the patterns we've observed are unlikely to be reversed as children grow older.

"We still need to better understand the reasons why many women do not return to full-time work and encourage policies that enable women reconcile work and family life."

A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office said there has been record rates of female employment this year, particularly among single parents.

"The careers of talented women should not be held back because they take time out of their jobs to care for a loved one," they said.

"That's why we are investing in returners to work - giving them the opportunity to refresh and grow their skills. By acting on this issue we can grow the economy and achieve true equality in our workplaces."

Earlier thsi week, a senior Bank of England official called on the UK government to make companies employing more than 30 people report their gender pay gaps.

Andy Haldane, Threadneedle Street’s chief economist, said just 40 per cent of the private-sector workforce was covered by legislation that obliges companies with more than 250 staff members to publish details of differences in pay between men and women doing identical jobs.

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Speaking at a joint Bank of England and European Central Bank conference on gender and career progression in Frankfurt, Haldane said that while the gender pay gap had narrowed in recent years, it remained close to 10 per cent.

“To tackle the pay gap comprehensively there is a strong case for extending the pay reporting regime to smaller companies – say, those with 30 or more staff,” Haldane said.

“There is currently no compulsory system of company reporting on the ethnicity pay gap in the UK, though the government has consulted on doing so. In my opinion, there are therefore strong grounds for extending compulsory reporting to ethnicity as well as gender.”

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