Timing of mothers' return to work after childbearing

Timing of mothers' return to work after childbearing

Variations by job characteristics and leave use

Jennifer Baxter

Research Paper No. 42 — July 2008
Timing of mothers' return to work after childbearing

Maternal employment rates are lowest in the first year of a child's life, as women leave or take a break from employment to care for an infant. Within this first year, however, there is considerable variation of maternal employment rates as some women make their way back to the workforce. 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 the Wave 1.5 collection of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Mothers of the infant cohort were asked a range of questions relating to their employment before and after the birth of their child and the types of leave taken. This information was used to analyse whether leave use and employment characteristics prior to the birth were associated with differences in the timing of return to work. Women who took leave had a higher likelihood of returning to work within 18 months, compared to those who took no leave or were not employed during their pregnancy. Whether this leave was paid, unpaid or a combination of paid and unpaid was associated with differences in the return-to-work patterns within this 18-month period, but by 18 months the likelihood of a mother returning to work differed very little across all these categories. Women who used only paid leave had a slightly higher rate of return to work than those who used only unpaid leave, with those who used a combination of paid and unpaid leave having a rate of return to work between these two groups. Other factors related to differences in timing of return to work are also discussed.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Jennifer Baxter is a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), where she works largely on employment issues as they relate to families with children. Since starting at AIFS, Jennifer has made a significant contribution to a number of important reports, including the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA) Social Policy Research Paper No. 30, Mothers and Fathers with Young Children: Paid Employment, Caring and Wellbeing (Baxter, Gray, Alexander, Strazdins, & Bittman, 2007), and several Family Matters articles. Her research interests include maternal employment following childbearing, work-family spillover, children's time use and parental time with children. She has made extensive use of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) to explore these areas of research.

Jennifer completed a PhD in the Demography and Sociology Program of the ANU, titled The Changing Employment of Partnered Mothers in Australia, 1981 to 2001. Her work experience includes more than fifteen years in the public sector, having worked in a number of statistical and research positions in government departments.


A previous version of this paper was presented at the Australian Population Association Conference, Adelaide 2006.

The author would like to thank Matthew Gray (AIFS), Edith Gray (Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute), Gillian Whitehouse (University of Queensland), Bob Drago (Penn State University), and Peng Yu and Helen Rogers (both from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) for providing comments on earlier versions of this paper.

This report is based on the Parental Leave in Australia Survey, which was funded by the ARC Linkage Project (LP0453613) and implemented in 2005 as a nested study within Wave 1.5 of Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. The LSAC was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government through FaHCSIA and is conducted in conjunction with AIFS and a consortium of research agencies and universities.

Publication details

Research Paper
No. 42
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, July 2008.
42 pp.
ISSN: 
1446-9871
ISBN: 
978-1-921414-03-9
Suggested citation:

Baxter, J. (2008). Timing of mothers' return to work after childbearing: Variations by job characteristics and leave use (Research Paper No. 42). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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