Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Mothers' Timing of Return to Work by Leave Use and Pre-Birth Job Characteristics

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Mothers' Timing of Return to Work by Leave Use and Pre-Birth Job Characteristics

Article excerpt


This paper explores the timing of mothers' return to work using data from the 2005 Parental Leave in Australia Survey (PLAS), which was nested in Wave 1.5 of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). The analyses explore differences in timing of return to work, within 18 months after a birth, according to mothers' use of leave and employment before the birth of their child. Results showed that having worked before the birth was a strong predictor of timing of return after the birth. For those who were employed, those who used no leave had a relatively slow return to work, while among those who used leave, whether leave was paid, unpaid or a combination of paid and unpaid did not result in large differences in the likelihood of a mother returning to work by 18 months after the birth. Women who used only paid leave had a slightly higher rate of return to work than those who used unpaid leave, either on its own or in combination with paid leave. There were larger differences in timing of return within this 18-month period.

Keywords: maternal employment; maternity leave; employment transitions


Despite increasing rates of maternal employment in Australia, there is little Australian research on the employment transitions of mothers in the months following the birth of a child. An understanding of the timing of return to work and factors associated with a faster or slower return to work is important, as the timing of mothers' return to work is likely to have implications for their longer-term connection to the labour market and finances (Arun, Arun & Borooah, 2004; Beggs & Chapman 1988; Breusch & Gray 2004) and also has relevance to issues of child and maternal health and wellbeing (Berger, Hill & Waldfogel 2005; Brooks-Gunn, Han& Waldfogel 2002; Hyde, Klein, Essex & Clark 1995).

Australia is one of a few OECD countries without universal paid maternity leave (OECD 2007), and the diversity of the labour market means that some women are employed in jobs which provide access to paid and unpaid maternity leave, while others receive only unpaid maternity leave, or perhaps no leave at all. By exploring relationships between employment characteristics, use of leave and timing of return to work, this paper contributes to the policy debate on paid maternity leave (Goward 2002; Swan, Gillard & Macklin 2008) and also informs on how labour market features impact on this aspect of family life.

Analyses of Australian maternal employment transitions are based on older (1985) data (Glezer 1988) or rely on annual, rather than monthly, employment information (Baxter 2005). Both Baxter's and Glezer's analyses showed that women employed while pregnant began work sooner after childbirth than women who were not employed while pregnant. Further, Glezer's study showed that women who used maternity leave had a higher employment retention rate. This was not surprising, since those who did not use maternity leave included those who left work with the intention of looking after children. It is clear that this relationship should be reassessed as these data are now more than 20 years old. Also, while different employment conditions during pregnancy were studied in Glezer's analysis, little is known about whether, in the current labour market, these employment conditions lead to differences in return-to-work patterns.

While international research can be informative regarding the role of parental leave and of job conditions in explaining variations in the return to work, Australian patterns may be distinctive. Data collected recently have made it possible to undertake analyses of contemporary return-to-work timing, taking into account the use of leave as well as job characteristics prior to the birth. The data were collected in the 2005 Parental Leave in Australia Survey (PLAS) (Whitehouse, Baird & Diamond 2005), a nested study within Wave 1. …

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