High number of mums in work

A new report from the ONS covering early 2021 says three quarters of mums are in work – the highest number in 20 years.

Woman flexible working from home


Figures from early last year show just over three quarters of mums were working, the highest number in the last 20 years.

The Office for National Statistics figures cover the period from April to June 2021 and show over nine in 10 (92.1%) fathers with dependent children were employed in the same periond – an increase from 89.6% in 2002, although the numbers have plateaued in recent years.

The ONS says the employment rate was higher for mothers than either women or men without dependent children and has been since 2017, with mums over 50 more likely to be in work than those without children and younger mums less likely to be in work than those aged 25 and over.

Since the pandemic began, the figures also show that in families where both parents are employed, it has become more common for both parents to work full time, particularly when children get older. Women whose youngest dependent child was aged between one and eight years were more likely to be in part-time employment than full-time employment. Another factor could be the availability of part-time jobs during the pandemic – the early part of the pandemic saw a significant drop in the availability of part-time jobs with sectors such as hospitality and retail where part-time roles were more common being particularly hard hit by Covid.

The ONS speculates about the complex reasons for the figures. It says the increasing cost of living is likely to be a factor, with research showing a greater proportion of parents with dependent children report their household could not afford an unexpected expense compared with non-parents or parents not living with a dependent child. Benefits changes, including successive squeezes on benefits as a result of austerity, could also be part of the explanation. For instance, in 2017,  changes came in that meant single parents of children as young as three would be expected to seek paid employment if they wanted to receive state benefits. Previously the age limit had been five.

The report also shows that in April to June 2021:

  • 12.1% of parents reported that they mainly worked from home in their main job; mothers were more likely to report homeworking (13.4%) than fathers (10.7%).
  • More than half (57.7%) of families with only one child had both parents working full-time, compared with 39.5% of families with three or more children.
  • When asked about any special working arrangements, such as flexible or term-time hours, 33.3% of mothers reported an agreed special working arrangement in their job, compared with 23.6% of fathers.

Figures out earlier this year, however, show a slight rise in economic inactivity among women for reasons of looking after family and household. There has been speculation about whether high childcare costs are to blame, but the picture is likely to continue to fluctuate as the cost of living rises.

The ONS survey also shows that in March 2022, employed women with dependent children spent more time on unpaid childcare (an average of 85 minutes per day) and household work (an average of 167 minutes per day) than employed men with dependent children (56 and 102 minutes per day, respectively). Moreover, employed women with dependent children spent more time on all work combined (an average of 496 minutes per day working from home, working away from the home, on unpaid childcare and unpaid household work) than employed men with dependent children (481 minutes per day).

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