Timing of single motherhood: implications for employment careers in Great Britain and West Germany -PhD thesis-

Publication type

Thesis/Degree/Other Honours


Publication date

June 1, 2013


This thesis investigates how family–employment reconciliation issues
associated with single motherhood affect women’s employment careers. The
study fills a gap in the literature, which rarely considers single
motherhood and employment as processes in the life course, much less in a
cross-country comparative perspective. Patterns of employment
trajectories during and after single motherhood are examined as the
outcome of individual and institutional circumstances. Great Britain and
West Germany are used as contrasting cases that represent relatively
different contexts of labour market structures and family policy.
Longitudinal individual-level data from the British Household Panel
Survey (BHPS) and the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) are analysed,
looking at the period between and including 1991–2008. The thesis
develops a theoretical model that assumes differential career outcomes
for experiencing single motherhood at different life stages. Higher
difficulties of family–employment reconciliation are predicted for women
experiencing single motherhood at a young age compared to later stages.
The acquisition of marketable resources, which stands in the context of
education systems, is assumed to be one of the central mechanisms
mediating the relationship between age at single motherhood and
employment. Moreover, policies directed at single parents affect
reconciliation, shaping opportunity structures on which women can draw
in single motherhood. Compared to the German context, Britain provides
little institutional support securing labour market attachment for women
in single motherhood, particularly when their children are young.
Although providing more generous family policy measures in comparison,
West German maternity leave regulations are often not applicable to
women in single motherhood, and childcare is mostly granted on a
half-day basis. The findings from three steps of empirical analysis
provide new insights and highlight specific facets of established facts.
First, fixed effects logistic regression is used, which exposes a
negative association between single motherhood and entering full-time
employment. No differences are observed between partnered and
unpartnered mothers, but effective childcare arrangements support
women’s transition in both Britain and West Germany. The second step of
the analysis explores employment career patterns during and after single
motherhood using sequence analysis. The emerging typical patterns are
observed to different degrees in the two country contexts. On average,
more employment trajectories dominated by non-employment are observed in
Britain and by part-time employment in West Germany. In the last step,
these findings are used in an explanatory framework, the results of
which provide evidence for the life stage hypothesis. The analysis
demonstrates that not only social class but also mother’s age,
children’s age and skill levels seem to foster employment stability and
labour market attachment during and after single motherhood.




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