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4.4  Participation of mothers

This section considers the participation of mothers with dependent children (referred to here as simply “mothers”). Dependent children can be aged up to 17 years. Throughout this section the analysis is restricted to women (and to men in some places) who are aged 20 to 54 years, since few mothers are outside this age group.

Not surprisingly, mothers have lower participation rates than women with no children, and lower participation rates than men (Figure 7). Note that the category of “women with no children” is not a homogeneous group—it includes women who are yet to have children, those whose children are older than 17 or have left home, and those who have never had children.

Figure 7 – Participation of mothers compared to women with no children and to men
Participation of mothers compared to women with no children and to men.
Source: 2001 Census.

Analysis is restricted to people aged 20-54 years.

Figure 8a shows that sole mothers have lower participation rates than partnered mothers. Sole mothers have lower qualifications, on average, than partnered mothers. They are also more likely to be receiving a social welfare benefit, and therefore to face the disincentives to work which are implicit in means-tested benefits.[15] Sole parents may also have a greater workload at home, since household tasks are not shared with a partner.[16]

Large families appear to have some effect, but in general the number of children in a family makes little difference to the mother’s participation (Figure 8b). On the other hand, the age of the youngest child in the family makes a marked difference to the participation of mothers (Figure 8c). In all, mothers with pre-school children (aged 0-4 years) have a participation rate of only 54%, but mothers with school-aged children (aged 5-17 years) have a participation rate of 79%. This latter rate is almost as high as that for women with no children (cf Figure 7). There are a number of possible explanations for the difference in participation between mothers of younger children and mothers of older children. One is that mothers consider it important to spend a good deal of time with very young children; another is that the school system effectively supplies free childcare for at least part of the day, making it easier and less expensive for mothers to work.

Figure 8 – Mothers’ labour force participation
a. by sole and partnered status
Mothers’ labour force participation, a – by sole and partnered status.
b. by number of children in the family
Mothers’ labour force participation, b – by number of children in the family
c. by age of youngest child in the family
Mothers’ labour force participation, c – by age of youngest child in the family
Source: 2001 Census.

Analysis is restricted to people aged 20-54 years.

Consistent with the New Zealand studies discussed in Section 4.1, the 2001 Census shows that qualifications (Figure 4a), being a sole or partnered mother (Figure 8a), and age of youngest child (Figure 8c), make a substantial difference to women’s labour force participation. These factors are combined in Table 3, which shows that each of the three factors has an effect independent of the other two. So, for example, even when taking the age of children and mother’s qualifications into account, sole mothers still have lower participation rates than partnered mothers.

Table 3 – Participation of sole and partnered mothers by age of youngest child and highest qualification
  No School qualification School Qualification Post-school Qualification Total
Sole mothers with youngest child:        
0-4 years 32 44 56 42
5-9 years 56 68 77 66
10-17 years 65 76 85 75
any age 48 60 73 60
Partnered mothers with youngest child:        
0-4 years 47 56 64 57
5-9 years 72 80 86 80
10-17 years 79 85 91 86
any age 65 71 78 72
All mothers with youngest child:        
0-4 years 41 54 62 54
5-9 years 66 77 84 76
10-17 years 75 83 89 83
any age 59 68 77 69
For comparison:        
Women with no children 74 84 90 83
Men 83 89 94 88

Source:2001 Census.

Analysis is restricted to people aged 20-54 years.

Table 3 shows that participation rates vary widely for different groups of mothers. At one extreme, for example, sole parents with a pre-school child and no school qualification have a participation rate of only 32%. At the other, partnered mothers with a child aged 10-17 and with a post-school qualification have a participation rate of 91%. In terms of labour force participation, mothers are a diverse group.

Having young children is perhaps the strongest single influence on labour force participation. Highly-qualified mothers with a child aged 0-4 years, for example, have a participation rate lower than unqualified mothers with a child aged 5-9 years.

Table 4 follows the same format as Table 3 but each cell shows the number of mothers who are not participating in the labour force. Again this highlights the importance of the age of the youngest child. Nearly two-thirds of mothers not in the labour force have a youngest child under 5 (85,420 out of a total of 137,080).

Notes

  • [15]Benefits are highest at zero, or very few, hours of work and are progressively diminished as hours of work increase. These high effective marginal tax rates reduce work incentives for people on benefits.
  • [16]Although, as Craig (2004) demonstrates, male partners can create more work for women, rather than reducing it.
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