Understanding Society - Gender and Work in Scotland: research findings

Analyses data from Understanding Society on mothers returning to work and gender roles and attitudes


The Scottish Government's Gender Pay Gap Action Plan, published in March 2019, set out a broad range of actions to address gender inequalities in the labour market.[1] The Action Plan takes a holistic approach, acknowledging that gender inequalities take different forms at different stages of life and are shaped by a wide variety of factors.

The Action Plan recognises that the period of time following the birth of a child is a pivotal point in many women's careers, with many mothers returning to employment that is lower-skilled or lower-paid, or dropping out of paid employment altogether in order to care for their child. Along with actions relating to flexible working, the Living Wage, and employability services, the Action Plan therefore includes a commitment to "fund research on the career trajectories of mothers returning to employment based on longitudinal data from the Understanding Society survey".

The Action Plan also acknowledges that inequalities in the labour market are strongly influenced by societal attitudes. It therefore includes a range of actions to combat gender stereotyping, unconscious bias, and occupational segregation. As the Understanding Society survey contains information on gender roles and attitudes, we have also analysed this data.

Understanding Society, also known as The UK Household Longitudinal Study, is a large-scale survey which covers a wide range of topics. One of the advantages of Understanding Society is that it is longitudinal, meaning it tracks a given cohort over time. This allows us to see, for example, what happens after people have children. In particular, this report analyses the following data from Understanding Society:

1. Mothers returning to employment. Mothers who had taken maternity leave in the last year were asked about their intentions to return to employment. In addition, the job statuses of mothers and fathers after a baby was born were tracked over time.

2. Gender roles and attitudes. Responses to two statements on gender roles were collected from married mothers and fathers. In addition, perceptions of which partner is mainly responsible for a number of domestic activities were collected from both spouses.

The sample of Understanding Society is designed so that, on the whole, the same individuals respond in each wave of the study, with some individuals dropping out or returning over time. However, there are cases in which new individuals join the sample. For example, the immigrant and ethnic minority sample was boosted in Wave 6 (2014-2016) of the study[2].

Understanding Society uses the term 'work' to refer to paid work. In this report, we use the term 'employment' instead, recognising that informal childcare and other unpaid domestic responsibilities are equally forms of work. By 'employment', we mean a formal, contractual arrangement (i.e. paid work) which also includes self-employment. The term 'work' is retained only when quoting directly from Understanding Society.


Email: Spencer.Thompson@gov.scot

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