The mother of all labour costs

The reward for women who go back to work part-time after having children is apparently a big wage cut...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Part-time working mothers suffer a big loss of pay and status when they return to the office, according to research in the Economic Journal. On average, their hourly earnings are 26% lower than women working full-time. And since this applies to some 6m women – about 40% of the female working population – this ‘occupational downgrading’ is a significant problem.

The plethora of flexible working initiatives introduced in recent years was supposed to make it easier for women to return to work after having a baby. Part-time working is clearly a big part of this – and many women have been keen to take advantage. But it looks as though they are being punished financially when they choose to do this. The research suggests that the UK’s ‘part-time pay penalty’ is now the biggest in Europe.

The issue’s a complicated one, of course. It’s not just a gender thing, since the pay gap between men and women actually seems to be shrinking, at least at some levels. Part-time jobs tend to pay less across the board, and women are far more likely to work part-time – less than 40% of working mothers have a full-time job, compared to more than 90% of working men.

The other point is that women will often go back to a less-skilled job with fewer responsibilities – hence the lower pay. But that just suggests to us that companies need to make it easier to do even highly-skilled jobs on a part-time basis.

Either way, it’s clear that UK plc clearly hasn’t cracked the problem of how to make the best use of working mothers – and until they do, the incentives for them to return to work after giving birth will not improve. That would mean a lot of talent going to waste – and that’s bad news for all concerned.

MT’s taking an extended look at 'The Trouble with Women' in our March issue. Click HERE for a sneak preview.

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