Maternity leave and child care key to women’s return to work

1 September 2009

Australian women return to work earlier if they have maternity leave rights. Their return to work after maternity leave is also influenced by the availability of quality and affordable child-care and level of household wealth, a Deakin University study has found.

Using longitudinal data from the Household Income and Labour in Dynamics (HILDA) survey (2001 to 2007), economists Dr Cahit Guven and Dr Aydogan Ulker, looked at the factors which influence the length of time women spend on maternity leave after the birth of their child.

"Specifically we looked at the role household wealth, access to child care, maternity leave entitlements, flexibility of hours, wage levels, household structure and education played in determining how long a woman would spend on maternity leave," Dr Ulker said.

"Maternity leave entitlements, job flexibility and higher wage rates before the birth increase the probability of returning to work, while difficulties in accessing child care and higher household wealth delay it.

"It was clear the length of maternity leave is closely tied to the mother's decisions about employment and hours of work.

"These decisions in turn have implications for both the mother's and the child's wellbeing.

"Our research provides strong insights into how mothers will respond to the Government's proposed changes to maternity leave rights in 2011."

Dr Ulker said the biggest issue for mothers was access to quality and affordable child care.

"Women face a trade-off between the social benefits of being at home with their child and the quality of child care they receive compared with the economic impacts their withdrawal from the workforce has on the household budget," he said.

Dr Ulker said household wealth also influenced how long women stayed on maternity leave.

"Mothers who earn more before the birth can afford to stay at home with their child," he said.

"Contrarily though flexibility in working conditions and maternity leave rights seems to encourage mothers' return to work earlier than average."

Dr Ulker said marital status also had an influence.

"Compared to single mothers, married mothers are more likely to return to work early," he said. "This may be due to single mothers having a higher dependence on government welfare programs and taking longer to return to the labour market or not at all.

"Level of education and attitude to work and family also plays a role, with more highly educated women likely to take longer to return to work. As you would expect those who believe the family is the most important thing take longer leave than those who make their career a priority."


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