Motherhood reduces time spent in paid work; this trend has persisted over last three decades

Motherhood reduces time spent in paid work; this trend has persisted over last three decades

Young mother works remotely while children play on sofa behind

New research confirms that motherhood significantly reduces the amount of time a woman spends on paid work; something that has not changed in the last three decades. In contrast, fatherhood has little impact on the amount of time men spend on work.  

The paper by Professor Man-yee Kan and alumna Dr Muzhi Zhou of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Guangzhou), draws upon longitudinal data from 1992 to 2019 to estimate changes in the effect of marriage and parenthood on time use in men and women in the UK.

The study, published in Population and Development Review, distinguishes between paid work (being employed) and unpaid work (housework or other work within the domestic sphere), noting that men and women spend different amounts of time on each. 

Since the early 1990s, progresses have occurred in gender equality in the UK’s labour market - the employment rate of women rose from 62% in 1989 to 72% in 2019, and the gender pay gap narrowed from 27.5% in 1997 to 16% by 2019. However, recent research suggests this trend has stalled in the last decade.

Zhou and Kan's study looks to measure the effects of marriage and parenthood on men and women's paid and unpaid work.

In the past, research has shown that marriage and cohabitation will generally lead to an increase in paid work for both men and women, but an increase in unpaid work for women only.

Data from the new paper shows that marriage no longer has an effect on how much time is spent on paid work, for either men or women. Similarly, both men and women only increase their unpaid housework by a small amount following marriage.

On the other hand, past research has suggested that parenthood dramatically increases unpaid work time and thus decreases paid work time for women, while having a very minimal effect on how men spend their time.

The new data supports this theory - women without children spend over 18 more hours a week in paid work, compared to women with two or more children. 

The sharp decline in women’s paid work time due to motherhood has remained unchanged over time, although the increase in unpaid housework has declined.

The paper also notes that motherhood has longer-term impacts on a woman’s time use. Even seven years after childbirth, a mother will spend 14 hours less per week on paid work, compared to a childless woman.

For men, the change in how they spend their time is only modestly affected by parenthood. A childless man will spend only 1.6 more hours in paid work per week, compared to a father of two.

Women, rather than men, still juggle the demands of household and work and adjust their time use accordingly. The gender revolution has made little progress in lessening the vast reduction in women’s paid work time due to motherhood.

The findings suggest that the gender revolution of the division of labour among parents has stalled – family policies, such as providing free childcare or encouraging shared parental leave, have not successfully increased mothers’ time spent in paid work.

The paper concludes:

Policymakers should develop proactive policies that address gender norms around parenthood and women as the primary caregivers in society.

In this regard, some studies have shown that men increased their participation in care and housework substantially during the UK’s lockdown periods of the COVID-19 pandemic…

Such findings suggest that family-friendly policies, including those encouraging work from home and flexible working time, will increase men’s participation in domestic work.

Original Publication