Policies to support maternal employment and care for the child: what does the research tell us?

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Boyd, W 2011, 'Policies to support maternal employment and care for the child: what does the research tell us?', paper presented to Social policy in a complex world: Australian Social Policy Conference, Sydney, NSW, 6-8 July.


Continual increase in maternal employment in Australia over the past three decades has focused attention on family friendly employment policies and provision of childcare. To fully understand mothers’ decisions regarding return to paid work and child care requires empirical, longitudinal evidence of the on-going decision-making processes beginning with their preferred options. This prospective longitudinal study investigated preferences and decisions of 124 first-time expectant mothers about paid work and child care to 12 months postpartum. The data showed women’s decisions for paid work was a complex mix of rational and emotional influences, with the majority opting for part-time paid work. Choosing care of the child was problematic and caused significant emotional strain. The desire to use informal care, where the carer is known and the environment familiar, was a significant predictor of higher levels of satisfaction with the child’s care at 12 months postpartum whereas the use of formal centre based care was associated with significantly lower levels of satisfaction with care. The data shows that policies that support women’s choices for satisfying workforce engagement and care arrangements are prudent for ensuring productivity of the economy as well as enhancing the well-being of parents and children (OECD, 2007).