17th October 2019

Knowledge Type

Data & Statistics Equality & Diversity in Major Projects Technical paper


, Government Equalities Office

Major Project



Susan HarknessMagda BorkowskaAlina Pelikh

Of Interest To

Academia Consultants Contractors Investors Leadership teams Operators Private sector clients Public sector clients SME

Employment pathways and occupational change after childbirth


There is a large body of international evidence showing that women with children suffer large pay penalties (Harkness & Waldfogel, 2003). A potential explanation for this is that taking time out of the labour force or returning to work part-time may be damaging for career progression (Costa Dias, Joyce & Parodi, 2018; Waldfogel, 1998). If this is the case, the employment trajectories that women follow in the years following birth will have important implications for women’s future pay. Alternatively, on their return to work women may take up jobs with lower occupational status than those they held previously, or their careers may progress at a slower rate than those of childless women or men. In either case this may contribute to a fall in the relative earnings of mothers. Moreover, the competing demands of work and families may be greater in some jobs than others and if this is the case we might expect the risk of occupational downgrading, and of exiting employment or moving to part-time work, to vary across industries or occupations.Using data from Understanding Society for 2009/10-2016/17 this report assesses the extent to which women, by opting out of employment, moving to part-time work or to jobs with lower occupational status, ‘downgrade’ their careers following childbirth.