Type of job and work conditions are key to women returning to work after maternity leave, according to a German research study.
The study, by Melanie Arntz, Stephan Dlugosz and Ralf Wilke from the Mannheim Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW), to be presented at the annual congress of the European Economic Association in Mannheim today, finds that the number of new mothers who return to work in a part-time capacity or have a second child before returning to the labour market has increased in the last decade and that the decisions made by women about whether they return or not are greatly dependent on the number of years in their job, but also on the conditions and the quality of employment provided by their employer. In particular, suitable conditions of employment offered by an employer, as well as the way of working before the birth of a child, make it more likely that a woman will return to work, the researchers say.
The researchers analysed data on over 19,000 mothers in Germany aged between 18 and 45 who worked full time before they had their first child between 1985 and 2005. They found that around 38% of women returned to their previous employer after taking maternity leave (18% full time, 20% part time) and around 13% switched jobs. Over a quarter of women had their second child while still on maternity leave and 15% did not return to work.
They find that the mother’s personal characteristics as well as those of her former employer, how long she has been doing the job for, labour market conditions and the availability of childcare determine the length of maternity leave periods. Legal regulations pertaining to the protection of mothers and to parental leave also play a role. The research shows women who work with a younger cohort of colleagues are less likely to return, shift workers and those in more complex, specialist jobs are more likely to return while those offered a promotion shortly before going on maternity leave are more likely to change jobs. Those offered longer job protection on maternity leave – enabling them to return to their job after 18 months of leave – are more likely to change jobs.
The researchers say the women who can return to part-time work tend to be those who were earning above-average salaries and can afford to work less than they did beforehand, but add that encouraging women to return to work in the first place has more to do with the access they have to childcare and the legal framework around maternity leave.