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Sharing the Burden

Does fathers’ job flexibility ease mothers’ return to employment?

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Man working from home with laptop during quarantine. Home office and parenthood at same time.

Source: SbytovaMN

After the birth of a first child, women tend to withdraw from the labour market and take on more responsibilities related to childcare and housework, returning to employment later. And while women still tend to take on the majority of such unpaid labour, men are becoming increasingly involved in these responsibilities. Yet research on women’s return to the workplace after the birth of their first child tends not to consider the characteristics of their partners. When male partners have more flexible working hours and schedules, they might be able to more easily take on unpaid labour responsibilities and facilitate their female partners’ re-entry into employment.

As such, Sandra Buchler (Goethe-University Frankfurt) and Katharina Lutz (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München) investigated how male partners‘ employment flexibility – specifically their weekly working hours and schedule autonomy – influences their female partners’ return to work after the birth of their first child. They used survey data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), sampling 581 couples who had a first child during the period 2002-2017. Buchler and Lutz considered whether the male partners in the sample were self-employed; whether they worked in the public sector; and factors that consider both partners, such as education level and the share of household income brought in by each partner prior to childbirth.

Interestingly, the results indicate significantly different patterns between full-time and part-time workers. Women whose partners are working part-time are comparatively more likely to return to part-time employment than full-time. These findings may reflect an attempt to create equal division of unpaid labour. When male partners have self-determined schedules, this also facilitates women’s return to part-time work, but has no influence on full-time employment. By contrast, women whose partners work standard or long hours are more likely to return to full-time employment as well, demonstrating no relationship between men’s employment flexibility and women’s working hours.

Overall, Buchler and Lutz’s findings suggest that women return to full-time and part-time work for different reasons. For women who return to the labour market full-time, their partners’ employment characteristics play less of a role, and their partners tend to work full-time as well, perhaps indicating that more career-oriented individuals tend to partner up. On the other hand, men’s employment flexibility does facilitate return to the workplace for women who choose to work part-time. Thus, labour market policies affecting men could still provide an opportunity

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Emily Frank