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Motherhood, caring and the careers of Australian women - April 2019

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April 2019

We collaborated with the Women in Economics Network (WEN) to crowdsource potential NEP poll questions from the participants of the recent Australian Gender Economics Workshop 2019.

The proposition we chose - regarding the impact of motherhood on a woman's career - goes to the heart of many of the current policy issues/debates in this space (eg. childcare, maternity/parental leave, disincentives arising from the tax/transfer system, under-valuation of care, household allocation of tasks & sharing of domestic/childrearing duties etc).

We asked our panellists the following:

Proposition 1: "Without changes to existing public policy or private sector practice in Australia, motherhood will always negatively affect a woman's career."

Proposition 2: "In Australia, fathers are more restricted than mothers in fulfilling a caring role while in employment."

Overview of Poll Results by Professor Guyonne Kalb

  

In recent years, encouraging female labour force participation has often been on the policy reform agenda, either for: equity reasons, to reduce income support dependence, or to counteract declining population participation rates due to an ageing population.

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RESULTS

Proposition 1

Proposition 2


Responses (34)


 

Garry Barrett

Part 1 - Strongly agree

9


 

Part 2 - Disagree

8


 

Alison Booth

Part 1 - Strongly agree

9


 

Part 2 - Disagree

7


 

Lisa Cameron

Part 1 - Strongly agree

10

That becoming a parent adversely affects women's labour market participation is clearly demonstrated by the differences in participation rates of men and women who have children in Australia. That public policy and work culture can address this is evidenced by the rates of labour market participation in countries such as Sweden who have actively designed policy to reduce this gap. Approximately 83% of mothers are employed in Sweden compared to just over 60% in Australia. Sweden has done this through public policies such as the provision of paternity leave to fathers (which cannot be transferred to mothers and so expires if not taken by the father). These public policies have led to a culture in which it becomes the norm for fathers to share child-rearing responsibilities and for the work place to accommodate this. In relation to proposition 2, men do face challenges when trying to negotiate work arrangements, such as reduced working hours, so as to be able to care for their child. This is a result of the social norms (reinforced by current public policy) that child care is primarily the mother's role. However, I also think that many men use this as an excuse for shirking from sharing child rearing responsibilities, and/or they are often too fearful to ask their employer for such conditions out of concern about how they will be perceived. Men need to ask and push for such change. It is too easy to just say it is not possible or that their request will not be considered. Finally, on a personal note, as a professor of economics and mother who has worked part-time since the birth of her first child 17 years ago, part-time employment if chosen by the woman can offer lots of benefits. I notice that 40% of women working part time aged over 45 do so because they prefer it. Both mothers and fathers need to be able to choose the arrangements that suit them best. In my case this involves both me and my husband working part-time. It gives us both the best of both worlds.


 

Part 2 - Agree

7


 

Ken Clements

Part 1 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

6


 

Part 2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

6


 

Deborah Cobb-Clark

Part 1 - Strongly disagree

8


 

Part 2 - Disagree

8


 

Janine Dixon

Part 1 - Strongly disagree

8

On proposition 1, I've chosen "strongly disagree" because the wording of the proposition - the use of "always" - means it can be disproven with a single counterexample. I do agree that motherhood too often negatively affects a woman's career. Policy settings, such as the current design of the childcare subsidy system, are a problem, and in some cases the second earner in the family is penalized with additional costs (taxes, childcare costs net of subsidies) of more than 100% of his/her additional wages for increasing his/her (usually her) work hours. While we can do more with existing policy (fixing up the childcare subsidy system is an obvious example), cultural change also plays an important role, and policy settings can nudge this in the right direction. The early years spent caring for children can set expectations within the family. The mother may find herself trapped in the role of primary carer and secondary bread-winner, with adverse consequences for her career. A Swedish-style paternity leave policy may help to reset societal expectations of both parents.


 

Part 2 - Agree

8


 

Brian Dollery

Part 1 - Agree

8


 

Part 2 - Agree

7


 

Gigi Foster

Part1 - Disagree

10

A couple who chooses to have children can organize this in any number of ways around one or both parent's careers. It requires forward planning and coordination, and how easy it is depends heavily on whether the couple chooses to have one person stay at home (the man or the woman) or work part-time to look after the children. My responses should not be interpreted to mean that there is nothing Australia could do to make it easier for people to combine children and careers. However, the focus on the plight of mothers versus fathers distracts from the real issues, such as the scarcity of affordable, high-quality daycare with attributes that align with the needs of working parents.


 

Part 2 - Disagree

6


 

Lata Gangadharan

Part 1 - Strongly agree

10

The first proposition: it is clear that without changes in public policy or changes in organizational design, women would find it difficult to balance motherhood and careers. I find the second proposition difficult to understand. Perhaps it is how it is worded? Most organizations do not have generous paternity leave and caring roles for men are often looked down upon. Social norms do make it therefore difficult for men to fulfill a caring role, but I am not sure how it compares to women.


 

Part 2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

6


 

Prue Kerr

Part 1 - Agree

7

The biological fact of birth and early mothering tends to take new mothers away from their careers for at least a short period and partially away after that, for negotiable alternative arrangements of work. The pervasive culture of a male breadwinner who must aim for the top job is not always so negotiable in his own expectations of his career or as a father. Much progress has been made in workplace practices, for example, to address opportunities for parental rather than only maternal leave, or for flexibility in timing of hours at the work place and working from home. But changes to the gender imbalance of long term career outcomes might, like quotas, require rules of conduct as well as incentives.


 

Part 2 - Agree

7


 

Tony Makin

Part 1 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

8

Probably generally true, but motherhood wouldn't necessarily negatively affect a woman's career if the father is the principal carer, which seems increasingly more common. However, data required on that.


 

Part 2 - Agree

8


 

Margaret Nowak

Part 1 - Strongly agree

10

First and foremost there are strong cultural underpinnings to the labour market outcomes for women who become mothers in Australia. Culturally and structurally the Australian labour market largely still adheres to the male "breadwinner" model and this significantly influences the decision making and actions of fathers, mothers, employers and the government. The assumptions of this model underlie the ?statistical discrimination? which ensures that for young women there is the likelihood that their starting salary will be below that of their male peers, that they will in all likelihood receive less access to training, mentoring and employer sponsorship/special career enhancing projects. This is further exacerbated when the woman is pregnant/has children. This impacts family decision making post children as the male is identified as having greater earning capacity and thus the expected breadwinner. Cultural expectations also underpin choices women make upon return to work following maternity. Culturally the obverse of male breadwinner, the woman as carer, underlies the expectations of and attitudes of women who are mothers; from guilt feelings expressed by some working mothers to attitudes and preferences about who undertakes the childcare, the residual work choices open to women returning to work when balancing child care (eg shift work to enable a partner to be present to provide care) and the preference for part-time work to enable balancing of care duties and household maintenance which largely is an expected part of the ?carer?role. There is an interesting contrast with some studies available for Europe such as France and the data provided on Norway in respect of women returning to full-time work and the expectation of and availability of out of home childcare. The structure of the labour market, employment and the organisation and content of ?jobs? responds to this breadwinner model in a multitude of ways which then privilege the male breadwinner model. The rewards for ?presentism?, structuring of ?the job? content around the assumption of ?full-time? work, timing of training opportunities, meetings etc., single sex facilities available on some work-sites and the non-inclusive workplace culture in non-traditional fields of work are but some of these. The other side of this coin is the cultural expectations on men that make taking on the carer role an exception, both because the employment is not structured for them to be able to do so, and because both government labour market regulations around family leave and enterprise bargains and awards may distinguish the leave expectations for ?mothers? and ?fathers? differently.


 

Part 2 - Agree

6


 

Lionel Page

Part 1 - Agree

10

Research consistently shows that the main driver of differential careers between men and women is the asymmetric effects parenthood has for them. Motherhood takes a physical toll on women, before and after birth. In competitive industries, the work interruptions it entails can have long-term consequences, setting women back in the race for promotions. In addition, in the work-life balance trade-off, women are often allocating more of their time to the family when becoming mothers. Part of this pattern may come from preferences and part of it may come from constraints. In both cases, improvements can be made to help women in their choices. In the case of women choosing to invest more time at home. Such a choice in the short term can make it difficult to re-enter a career-oriented job at a later stage. A key issue to address for gender equality is allowing women to re-enter the job market after having been a household carer for several years, with minimal penalty. Programs such as temporary subsidies to employers who hire mothers after a career interruption or a long period on part time could be one angle to consider. In the case of women willing to come back rapidly in the workforce after birth, many constraints make it difficult. In many places there is a lack of daycare places, leading to waiting lists. Improving the availability of daycare places, in particular close or on the workplace would make a difference. In some industries, there is a reticence to grant fathers extended parental leave. Such practices are de facto discriminatory and should be curtailed. Overall, industries should be encouraged to adopt guidelines about how to limit the motherhood penalty in career progression. In Australian universities, it is for instance common to have a rule stating that promotion decisions should consider the "opportunities" the candidate had and the interruptions associated with parenthood. It is a start. But it leaves unclear, how and how much should parenthood be compensated in the process (and not just the interruptions). Finally, economists should stress an obvious fact: in competitive markets, firms have an interest to simply chase the best looking CVs without regard for social goals such as helping mothers having a fair go. One solution often preferred in public discussions is to regulate and constrain the companies to take more women/mothers on board. Another solution worth investigating is to resolve this issue by incentivising firms to give more opportunities to mothers to work and continue a career after birth.


 

Part 2 - Agree

8


 

John Quiggin

Part 1 - Agree

7

On average, though not in every case, motherhood adversely affects women's career prospects. This is unlikely to change without improvements in parental leave and childcare. I'm unsure how to interpret the second statement, so I've left it as a don't know.


 

Part 2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

2


 

Jeffrey Sheen

Part 1 - Strongly agree

9


 

Part 2 - Strongly disagree

9


 

Julie Toth

Part 1 - Strongly agree

10

Public policy and workplace practices affect our experiences of parenthood in a myriad of ways including: childcare provision, school systems, welfare entitlements, employment laws, cultural norms and more. Too many of the relevant areas of policy, practice and attitude are still very strongly gendered.


 

Part 2 - Strongly agree

10


 

Beth Webster

Part 1 - Agree

10

Fathers who take time out of their careers to care for young children (or other family members) often do not receive respect at workplaces from their male peers. The default position should be that both parents take some energy from their careers while they have young children rather than the other way around. Workplaces can encourage this by offering parents who resume full-time (full energy) work, additional opportunities to advance their career. The tradition of the macho man who works like a machine for 40 years, often relying on their wife to keep the household together, should die out. Its not healthy for themselves, their partners or their children.


 

Part 2 - Strongly agree

10