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Do Infants Affect Women's Work?

Do Infants Affect Women's Work?


    Do Infants Affect Women's Work?

    The pattern of women's employment is affected by child-bearing and childrearing
    in a number of ways.
    First, and most obviously, protective labor legislation forbids the employment of women within a specified period following childbirth in many countries - 4 weeks in Britain in factory work. Among the financial benefits available to childbearing women are some that cover the post-partum period; in Britain, there is the maternity allowance,  introduced in 1948, and payable only to those women who qualify on the basis of their own National Insurance contributions. At present, the maternity allowance stands at .f.25.95 per week and it extends normally until 7 weeks after the birth. There is also maternity pay,  which is
    90 percent of a woman's basic pay and is available under the 1975 Employment Protection Act to women who have worked for 2 years continuously at the same job and have worked for 16 hours or more a week. (An  alternative qualification is 5 or more years' service of from 8 to 15 hours' work a week.) Under these circumstances, a woman is also entitled to be given her job back if she notifies her intention to return to work in due time after birth. Maternity allowance is deducted from maternity pay, irrespective of a woman's eligibility. There is also child benefit,  now payable to the mother at the rate of .f.6.50 per child. In general, the maternity rights system is complex and at present appears to operate in a most unsatisfactory way. In a survey of some 2500 British women having babies in 1979, Daniel found that only 54 percent of the women who had worked during
    pregnancy satisfied the qualifying requirements of the 1975 Act.

    In Daniel's survey, 24 percent of the women employed during pregnancy were employed again within 8 months of childbirth; a further 14 percent were looking for jobs. Return to employment was greatest among part-time employees and among women who had been homeworkers (doing work for pay at home) when pregnant. Clearly, these types of work were found to be compatible with the demands of infant care. Daniel also reported a phenomenon found by other investigators, namely, a tendency for women to move following childbirth into less favored sectors of employment. Indeed, almost the whole of the increase in the proportion of mothers employed in Britain since 1971 is accounted for by the move into part-time employment. Women with pre-school children are also more likely than other women to be doing evening shift-work. The resulting concentration of women employees in part-time work (40 percent of employed women work part-time, compared with 4 percent of men) is a primary factor accounting for the disadvantaged labor market position of women as a group, particularly the continuing 40 percent gap between the average earnings of women and men.

    Infants also have an impact on women's household work. According to French time-budget studies, one child adds on average 23 hours a week to housework time, two children add 35 hours, and three or more add 41 hours. The demands of infants on mothers are often not timed to fit in with the demands of household work, especially meal-getting, and the resulting conflict may be experienced as inherently frustrating.



     The increase in maternal employment has taken place over a period when two incomes have increasingly been required to maintain a family at the same standard of living secured by one 20 years ago.  In many cases, a family is taken out of poverty by a mother's earnings. In addition, there has been a big increase in single-parent families - a rise of 32 percent in Britain in the 5 years between 1971 and 1976, for example. About 1 in 8 of all families in Britain are now single-parent families, and 4 out of 5 of these are headed by women. What these figures mean is that quite irrespective of any other advantages of employment to mothers, it would be financial1y irresponsible for many mothers not to
    be in employment.

    The literature on why mothers are in employment is considerable and, on the whole, rather uninformative, since there is unlikely to be only one reason for having a paid job, the question as to why fathers work is not asked and the question of maternal employment is still a moral issue in many people's eyes,  so that the answers to survey questions are liable to be influenced by what mothers are expected to say, rather than accurately to reflect the mothers' own experiences. There is considerable evidence suggesting that employment is valued by mothers both for the negative reason of offering an escape from captivity in the
    Horne and for the positive reason for involving the mother in social relationships.

    The positive benefits for mothers and their young children of the mother's employment are also highlighted by research on maternal depression. Brown and Harris, in their study of depression in London women, found motherhood to be a risk factor: 42 percent of working-class women with a child under 6 were psychiatrically disturbed. The figure for comparable middle-class women was 5 percent: there were no class differences in the incidence of psychiatric disturbance among women without children. Other studies have yielded similar figures for depression in mothers of young children. In Brown and Harris's
    study employment outside the home was a factor protecting against maternal depression; that is, mothers without employment (either full- or part-time) were considerably more likely to become depressed in the face of difficulty.

    Brown and Harris suggest that the mediating structure here is the effect of employment on a mother's self-esteem. Whatever the explanation, it can hardly be beneficial for infants to have depressed mothers. The incidence of child accidents is raised among depressed mothers and there is also some evidence that depressed mothers treated with Valium are more likely to be violent towards their children.

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