Who will be mother?

Babies and Bosses: Reconciling Work and Family Life
OECD Observer

In 1995 the UN estimated the value of mothering worldwide at approximately US$11 trillion. The Wall Street Journal reported in 1999 that a mother’s “multi-tasking” is worth US$500,000 a year.

Behind those figures lies the fact that, 30 years after women around the world clamoured for equal rights, Mom is still the parent who runs the home and brings up the kids.

And whereas nannies get paid and usually receive social security, full-time mothers normally do not. Responding to such issues, Babies and Bosses: Reconciling Work and Family Life, the OECD’s first report in this series, focuses on family policies in Australia, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The surprising news is that in the last three decades, female employment has doubled in the Netherlands, from 30% to 70%, and has increased in Australia from 45% to 70%. In Denmark, where family policies are more aggressively aimed at keeping women on the job market, the female employment rate was already close to 60% and increased to 75%.

Earnings disparities with male workers still exist, and many women are working part time or in temporary jobs, and concentrated in certain sectors, mainly health and social care. In Australia and the Netherlands, about a quarter of all female workers work less than 20 hours/week. The report suggests that Australian moms work longer hours as their children age, whereas Dutch mothers keep their part-time status. In fact, in the Netherlands, part-time workers have rights equal to their fulltime counterparts.

Every mother, even at home, is a working mother, but this view is still not supported in the working world. When mothers return to work after maternity leave, they rarely achieve the same status as if they had left the newborn at day care and gone directly back on the job. Gaps across countries vary, but mothers tend to earn less than their childless peers over a lifetime. This affects pension entitlements too.

The problems are both economic and cultural. For years staying at home was seen as conservative and dependent. Perhaps as the cost of day care rises, such contradictions will become more apparent.

©OECD Observer No 235, December 2002




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