Growing Up in Scotland: patterns of maternal employment and barriers to paid work

This report uses data from the Growing Up in Scotland study to investigate the employment patterns of mothers during the first 5 years of their child's life.

1 Introduction

Supporting mothers who want to enter, re-enter, or remain in paid work after childbirth is an important objective for the Scottish Government. It feeds into wider goals to eliminate child poverty and to ensure the Scottish labour market works for everyone, thus helping lay the ground for a Fairer Scotland (Scottish Government, 2016a).

Across the UK the employment rate for women has increased over the last decades, and since the 1980s the employment rate for mothers has increased even faster than that for other women (Fagan and Norman, 2012). Currently, as many as seven out of ten (70%) of all adult women in Scotland are in employment (Nomis, 2017), and figures for mothers are higher still, at almost eight out of ten (77%) (Adams et al., 2016). Nonetheless, inequalities and challenges remain: the pay gap between men and women persists and widens significantly as women reach childbearing age (Resolution Foundation, 2017). Furthermore, existing research has suggested that mothers living in disadvantaged circumstances are less likely than more advantaged mothers to enter or re-enter the labour market after having a child (Fagan and Nolan, 2012; Smeaton, 2006; Chanfreu et al., 2011), and that mothers on lower incomes are more likely than those on higher incomes to struggle with balancing paid work and caring responsibilities (Dean et al., 2017). These inequalities pose important questions about how best to address barriers to mothers’ employment – who are the mothers most in need of support and what are the main barriers they face?

This report seeks to answer questions relevant to policy makers and others who are seeking to enable and support mothers with young children who want to engage in paid work but face barriers to doing so. The report uses data from the Growing Up in Scotland study ( GUS). GUS provides a unique opportunity to explore employment patterns of mothers in Scotland and to identify which mothers are more likely to be in need of support to enter, re-enter or remain in paid work after having a child. Through exploring questions of particular relevance to policy makers, the report also contributes to the wider evidence base on maternal employment. More specifically, it explores changes to mothers’ employment status and trajectories over time, examines the characteristics of mothers who are looking for paid work and looks at the main barriers these mothers face. It also identifies a number of characteristics and circumstances which appear to be associated with an increased likelihood of mothers giving up paid work after having a child.

1.1 About the Growing Up in Scotland study ( GUS)

GUS is a longitudinal research study which tracks the lives of thousands of children and their families in Scotland from the early years, through childhood and beyond. The main aim of the study is to provide new information to support policy-making in Scotland but it is also intended to provide a resource for practitioners, academics, the voluntary sector and parents.

To date, the study has collected information about three nationally representative cohorts of children: a child cohort and two birth cohorts. Altogether, information has been collected on around 14,000 children and families in Scotland. This report draws on data collected from mothers in the two birth cohorts at the time the children were aged 10 months, 3 years and 5 years [4] .

The first birth cohort (Birth Cohort 1 or ‘ BC1’) comprised 5217 children born between June 2004 and May 2005 and living in Scotland when they were 10 months old. For this cohort, starting in 2005/06, data were collected annually from when the children were aged 10 months until they were just under 6 years old, and then biennially at age 8 and when the children were in Primary 6 (age 10). At the time of writing (2017), the ninth sweep of face-to-face data collection with this cohort is underway [5] .

The second birth cohort (Birth Cohort 2 or ‘ BC2’) comprised 6127 children who were born between March 2010 and February 2011 and living in Scotland when they were 10 months old. For this cohort, data were collected when the children were aged 10 months, just under 3 years, and just under 5 years. Face-to-face data collection with this cohort took place in 2011, 2013 and 2015, respectively [6] .

At each sweep of GUS, a range of data is collected from the child’s main carer. This includes information about their employment, education, income and health, as well as information about the household composition (e.g. whether they are living with a partner and the number of children living in the household). In the vast majority of cases, the respondent is the cohort child’s mother. As such, GUS contains a large amount of information about mothers living in Scotland, and because information is obtained from the same mothers over a number of years, GUS is a useful source of data for looking at mothers’ employment ‘trajectories’ – that is, the way individual mothers’ employment status changes over time.

Furthermore, the six year gap between the two cohorts means that it is possible to compare the employment status and trajectories of mothers with children born at different times. As the cohorts consist of nationally representative samples of Scottish children born in the respective time period, the findings presented in this report are broadly representative of mothers of children of particular ages living in Scotland in the years where data was collected. For example, the data collected from BC2 in 2011 are representative of mothers of 10 month old children living in Scotland at that time.

1.2 Scottish policy initiatives to support maternal employment

As already noted, ensuring that women are able to engage in rewarding work after having a child is an important priority for the Scottish Government, and one which ties in with wider efforts to address the pay gap between men and women and to eliminate child poverty. Both of these are key components of the Scottish Government’s aim to create a Fairer Scotland (Scottish Government, 2016a).

A number of policies and interventions are in place, or being developed, which seek to help facilitate women’s engagement in paid work after childbirth and/or overcome barriers to maternal employment. Key initiatives include efforts to combat pregnancy and maternity discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace, including ensuring access to flexible working, as well as increasing the provision of affordable and high quality childcare. A brief overview of the key initiatives is provided below.

1.2.1 Addressing pregnancy and maternity discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace

The Scottish Government’s 2016-17 Programme for Government commits to the creation of an inclusive labour market through reducing barriers to employment and helping women, young people and other groups to overcome structural challenges to their participation in work (Scottish Government, 2016b). To assist work in this area, the Programme established the Workplace Equality Fund which aims to “…reduce employment inequalities so that everyone – irrespective of gender, age, race or disability – has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and improve Scotland’s economic performance as a result“ (Scottish Government, 2017a) and which will support delivery of a number of Scottish Government programmes, including the Programme for Government, the Race Equality Framework, the Disability Action Plan and the Labour Market Strategy.

As part of the commitment to the development of an inclusive labour market, and following on from recommendations by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a Ministerial working group was established in December 2016 to examine issues around pregnancy and maternity in the workplace. The group aims to help reduce the number of women who have negative and discriminatory experiences during pregnancy and maternity and to increase positive experiences by sharing good practice and encouraging improved employment practices, communication and partnership working. This will be done by reviewing and developing governance and guidelines to help improve recruitment, retention and development of pregnant workers and increasing access to flexible working for mothers who enter or remain in paid work following childbirth. The recognition of flexible working as a key component in enhancing staff retention and recruitment is also reflected in the fact that the Scottish Government funds, and is an active partner in, the Family Friendly Working Scotland partnership. Through this partnership, established in 2014, the Scottish Government works with a number of third sector organisations to support and promote the development of family-friendly working across Scotland.

Furthermore, the Programme for Government also set out a commitment to establish a Returners Project so that women can get help updating skills and knowledge and employers can retain skilled staff after a career break. Building on initial funding to Equate Scotland to deliver the initiative in the STEM [7] sector, the Scottish Government has announced additional funding to six projects extending the initiative across a variety of industrial sectors where occupational segregation and the lack of women in senior positions is a concern. Projects funded include supporting returners to the financial services sector, manufacturing, security and entrepreneurship, promoting the take up of flexible working practices and support for women from Black and Minority Ethnic communities (Scottish Government, 2017b).

1.2.2 Expanding childcare provision

Increasing the availability of affordable high quality childcare forms another key component of initiatives to support mothers’ labour market participation. Recent years have seen the Scottish Government take a number of steps to increase the availability of childcare across Scotland. Most notably, the Children and Young People Act 2014 increased the entitlement to free early learning and childcare from 475 to 600 hours per year for 3 and 4 year old children. The government has pledged to further increase this entitlement to 1140 hours per year – equivalent to around 30 hours per week if delivered during term time – by 2020. A new framework for Out of School Care is also being developed by the Scottish Government, with support from the Scottish Out of School Care Network. This will replace the Scottish Government’s previous ‘School’s Out’ framework, published in January 2003. Out of School Care includes breakfast clubs, after school clubs and holiday clubs (predominantly for primary school children but for some secondary school children too). This new framework will be an essential part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver early learning and childcare and out of school care which is accessible and affordable for all. The main aims of the new initiatives are to develop high quality childcare that not only improves children’s outcomes and tackles inequalities but also enables parents to work, train or study. The development of the strategic framework will draw on learning from the Early Learning and Childcare Delivery Model Trials which are taking place across Scotland at the time of writing.

1.3 Research questions and report outline

Existing Scottish policy initiatives which aim to support mothers into and to remain in paid work have largely been developed on the basis of evidence from the UK and internationally and shaped by specifically Scottish policy priorities. However, to inform the further development of new and existing policies it is useful to understand more about the specific experiences and circumstances of mothers living in Scotland. This report seeks to do so through addressing a number of key policy questions. It also aims to contribute to the wider evidence base on maternal employment by providing a picture of the circumstances of mothers of young children living in Scotland.

1.3.1 Policy questions

With a specific aim to support and inform policy making, the report seeks to address the following key policy questions:

  • Which mothers need support to secure paid work [8] ?
  • What are the barriers facing mothers who want to work?
  • How can mothers be supported to start or remain in paid work after having a child, and to remain in work as their child ages?

In addition to these, the report will also consider the following questions:

  • To what extent would an expansion in the provision of affordable childcare support mothers into paid work?
  • Has there been any progress in supporting maternal employment between 2004/05 and 2010/11?

1.3.2 Detailed analysis questions and report outline

In order to answer these policy questions, the report is built up around a number of more detailed analysis questions:

  • What proportion of mothers with children aged between 10 months and 5 years were out of work and looking for work between 2005 and 2015?

This question is addressed in chapter 3 and includes considerations about the extent to which mothers’ employment status changed according to their child’s age, and whether any changes are evident across the two cohorts.

  • Who are the mothers that are out of work and looking for work?

Chapter 3 seeks to answer this question through the consideration of the socio-economic and demographic profile of mothers who were not in paid work but were looking for work. It does so by comparing, first, their profiles with that of all other mothers (i.e. all mothers who were not seeking work, including those already in paid work) and, second, with mothers who were also not in paid work but who were not looking for work. This chapter focuses on mothers of children born in 2010/11 only.

  • What are the barriers facing mothers who are looking for work?

Barriers to mothers’ working are addressed in chapter 4. The chapter draws on verbatim responses to a question asking why mothers who were looking for work believed they had not yet managed to find any. The analysis also looks at whether there were any differences in the reasons mentioned according the child’s age.

  • What do employment trajectories for mothers of young children in Scotland look like? What proportion of mothers leave work after having a child and have not returned to paid work by the time their child is aged 5?

These questions are addressed in chapter 5 which looks at mothers’ employment trajectories and compares these across the two cohorts. The analysis looks at two groups of mothers separately: all mothers, and mothers who had a paid job while they were pregnant with the cohort child.

  • Who are the mothers that leave work after having a child and do not return before their child turns 5?

Chapter 5 explores socio-economic and demographic characteristics and circumstances of mothers who worked during pregnancy but gave up work after childbirth and were still not in paid work at the time the cohort child was aged 5.

Finally, in chapter 6 we draw together findings from individual chapters and suggest what implications the research findings have for policy makers and others seeking to support mothers’ employment in Scotland.


Email: Ganka Mueller

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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