Why There Are More Working Mothers Than Ever

In 1996, a year in which many University of Leeds students were born, 61.9% of working mothers had children dependent on their income. Within our lifetimes, this has risen to a startling 73.7%, correlating to an increase in 1.2 million women. Why might this be?

The stats: 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the data earlier this week, evaluating men and women with children aged between 16 and 64 to gain a valid insight into the labour market. The investigation was restricted to those employed in England and was based on two surveys: the Labour Force Survey and the Annual Population Survey.

The results marked an overall figure of 4.9 million mothers with dependent children in the workforce, which is a comparatively high number juxtaposed to 3.7 million in 1996. Part-time work was also accounted for, as the results showed a significant increase in women with children at the toddler stage in employment, yet mothers with secondary school age children came out on top for full-time work. On the whole, men were more likely to be employed in full-time work than women.

Relationship status also played a central role: the ONS found that single parents were less likely to be employed, illuminating a striking gap between those single or with a partner, at 71.7% and 93% respectively for fathers, and 68.5% and 75% for mothers.

These two weak-points converged; unattached parents with dependent children aged under 4 were the lowest ranking, charting at just 48.4% in employment for single mothers and 62.3% for single fathers.

The reasons: 

Spokeswoman and statistician Emily Glastonbury indicated that this rise may be the result of,

‘more flexible working practices, shared parental leave, and changes to government policy on the availability of childcare’.

This may have been influenced by the 2015 announcement to share parental leave, which outlined 37 weeks of paid time-off and ensured it would be allocated equally between couples.

Both Labour and Conservative governments of the past 21 years have worked to encourage women with younger children to return to the job market sooner than previously expected, and the government’s recent plan to provide 30 hours of free childcare is a contentious example. Despite this progressive motion, Labour has warned this policy may be exclusionary, as there is a minimum requirement of a 16-hour working week and a minimum-wage salary to be eligible. This could prove untenable for those on zero-hours contracts whose working schedules are unstable, or those on disability benefits who are unable to fully care for their children.

Grace Ennis

Image: [Alamy Stock Photo, The Guardian]