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More mothers with young children in employment, but barriers remain for some

01 November 2017 | Tags: Growing up in Scotland, maternal employment

Mothers of young children in Scotland are increasingly likely to be in paid work and to remain in work through the first five years of their child’s life. However, since 2005 there has been no change in the proportion of mothers who are looking for work but are unable to find any.

A new report from the Growing Up in Scotland study, conducted by ScotCen Social Research, compares the patterns of employment of two groups of mothers. The report shows that 62% of women who gave birth in 2010/11 were in work when the child was 10 months old (including those on maternity leave), compared with 58% of women who gave birth in 2004/05.

The report, published today by the Scottish Government, shows that the proportion of mothers in work increased as their child got older. Whilst 62% of mothers who had a child in 2010/11 were in work when their child was 10 months old, by the time their child turned 5 this had risen to 70%.

In 2015, only 1 in 5 (21%) mothers of 5-year-olds had not been in paid work since their child was born, compared with 1 in 4 (24%) mothers with a 5-year-old in 2009/10. 

Barriers to maternal employment persist

Despite increases in the proportion of mothers with young children who are in paid work, the research showed no change in the proportion who are looking for work, suggesting that barriers to maternal employment have not eased over time.

In both groups of mothers – mothers who had a baby in 2004/05 and mothers who had a baby in 2010/11 – around 6% were looking for paid work when their child was 3 years old. These figures were similar when the children were babies, and when they were 5 years old.

Mothers who were looking for work tended to be younger and were more likely to be single mothers and living in low income households compared with mothers who were not looking for work (either because they already had a job, were unable to work, or were not interested in finding paid work).

Lack of suitable jobs and childcare issues some of the main barriers mentioned by mothers of young children looking for work

The report also outlines mothers’ accounts of why they hadn’t been able to find paid work. These include:

  • Lack of suitable jobs: Over half (53%) of mothers who were looking for a job when their child was 10 months old felt that there was a shortage of suitable jobs for them to apply for. This fell to around a quarter (27%) by the time the child was 5 years old.
  • Childcare: This seemed to be a particular issue for mothers of children approaching school age. 26% of mothers of 5 year olds who were looking for paid work said this was an issue for them, compared with 14% of mothers with a 10 month old. Of those looking for work, single mothers(19%) were almost twice as likely as those with a partner (10%) to cite childcare as a barrier to finding work when their child was 10 months old.

Line Knudsen, Senior Researcher at ScotCen, said: “A rise in the number of women with young children in work is good news for the Scottish Government who have committed to supporting women to return to work after childbirth.

“However, there is no room for complacency, and it’s important to acknowledge that mothers who want to return to work still face barriers to doing so – especially younger mothers, single mothers and those with fewer qualifications.

“Any new initiatives to support mothers returning to or entering the workforce need to take account of women’s skill levels and qualifications. They should also  try to ensure that family-friendly working practices, such as being able to work part-time or to work from home without penalties, are accessible at all levels of the labour market. A targeted approach to supporting younger mothers may also be necessary. But what’s likely to be needed is a joined up approach across a range of policy areas beyond employment, including health, education, housing and welfare.”


For more information contact Sophie Brown: / 0207 549 9550 or Luca Tiratelli: / 0207 549 7062.

Notes to Editors

The Growing Up in Scotland survey, commissioned by the Scottish Government and carried out by ScotCen Social Research since 2004, is a large-scale longitudinal research project aimed at tracking the lives of several cohorts of Scottish children from the early years, through childhood and beyond. Underpinned by a wide-ranging purpose, the principal aim of the study is to provide information to support policy-making in Scotland, but it is also intended to be a broader resource that can be drawn on by academics, voluntary sector organisations and other interested parties.

ScotCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.