Employment trajectories and later employment outcomes for mothers in the British Household Panel Survey: an analysis by skill level

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

January 15, 2014


This article explores the association between mothers’ involvement in paid employment when their children are young and their later employment prospects. Using 17 waves of the British Household Panel Survey (1997–2007), it examines the employment trajectories of 954 women for the decade after the birth of their youngest child, asking two main questions. Do mothers who enter or return to work tend to remain in employment? And do wages and job satisfaction further down the line (when the youngest child reaches ten years old) reflect the pathway taken? The article focuses in particular on differences between women with higher- and lower-level qualifications. Mothers are found to be following a variety of employment pathways, with instability relatively common: more than one in three move in and out of work over the period, and this movement is just as common among mothers with higher levels of qualifications as among those with only GCSE-level qualifications or none at all. A stable – and longer – work history is associated with increased wages later on, but the benefits are greater for women with higher levels of qualifications, as might be predicted by human capital theory. Women who were more highly qualified and who moved in and out of work over the decade had an hourly wage when their youngest child was ten which was 31 per cent lower than similar women with a stable work history; for women with few or no qualifications the corresponding figure was 10 per cent and statistically insignificant. For both groups, job satisfaction at the end of the decade was unrelated to the pathway taken.

Published in

Journal of Social Policy

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 43 , p.87 -108







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