Title

Returning to work? preferences and decisions of first-time mothers about engagement in paid work and care of their child

Document Type

Presentation

Publication details

Boyd, W, Thorpe, KJ & Tayler, CP 2009, 'Returning to work? preferences and decisions of first-time mothers about engagement in paid work and care of their child', poster presented to Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Biennial Meeting, Denver, USA, 2-4 April.

Abstract

This prospective longitudinal study investigates the preferences and decisions of first-time mothers about engagement in paid work and care of their child. The study tracks 124 mothers as they negotiate their preferred options through to their actual decisions about paid work and care in the first year of their child’s life. Such evidence provides better understanding of the influences on and processes of maternal decision-making regarding engagement in paid work and care of the child. A continual increase in maternal employment in countries with developed economies over the past three decades has focused attention on provision and quality of care for the child. The importance of care for the child is twofold: it enables participation of women in the workforce and provides early educational experiences for children. In a national economic environment where loss of women from the workforce represents loss of much-needed skill and productivity (OECD 2006) and loss of employment can result in personal poverty and family stress the maximisation of re-entry to the workforce following birth of a child is viewed positively. Yet the quality of child care has been reported as being an emotional barrier to women’s engagement in the work force (Bourke 2006; Harris 2008). Women’s attitude to employment, and work commitment are associated with their child care choices and are modified across the period of decision-making and early parenthood (Pungello and Kurtz-Costes 2000). To fully understand women’s child care needs and the association with re-entry to the workforce require empirical, longitudinal evidence of the on-going decision-making processes regarding engaging in paid work and care for the child. This paper presents a longitudinal study of Australian first-time mothers tracked from pregnancy across the first year of their child’s life as they negotiate decisions about employment re-entry and care of their child. A cohort of 124 Australian expectant first-time completed questionnaires in their third trimester of pregnancy, and at six and twelve months postpartum. The analyses examined factors predicting return to paid work (number of hours, timing of return to paid work; patterns of paid work, and satisfaction with paid work); and factors that predicted arrangements of care for the child. These factors included access to care for the child - including affordability, availability, proximity and flexibility of care; the quality of the care for the child as perceived by the mother and the characteristics of the child. Data will be presented on the factors that predict first-time mothers’ decisions to engage in paid work and care of the child. The impacts of economic, cognitive and emotional factors on these decisions are analysed. The study informs policy on maternity leave provision, and the interaction of child care provision and the decision to re-enter the work-force.

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