The postpartum period has a decisive impact on both the future of children and the career progression of their parents, especially mothers. A study by Noam Zontag that we recently published examines the employment characteristics of parents of young children, with an emphasis on the decline in employment of mothers after childbirth due to maternity leave, which in many cases is extended beyond the duration of paid leave. This issue is of great importance in Israeli society, which is characterized by high fertility rates and high employment rates of parents, especially mothers, compared to other developed countries. The study was written with the generous support of the Bracha Foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, and Yad Hanadiv.
Studies from around the world show that after the first birth, there was a decline in the employment of mothers, which is reflected in both a decrease in employment rates and a decrease in the number of working hours. Mothers often choose career paths that, while better integrated with family life, can harm the accumulation of employment experience, professional development, and future opportunities for advancement and salary increases. The decline in the employment figures of mothers after the first birth is referred to in the research literature as the “motherhood penalty,” and it is considered one of the main factors in the formation of gender wage-gaps in the long term as well.
Zontag’s study, which was written while he was a Taub Center researcher, examined the employment characteristics of parents of young children and focused on the actual length of maternity leave and other variables that correlate with the employment of parents of children of this age. The study shows, as expected, that the employment rates of mothers decline markedly after childbirth in all population groups due to maternity leave, but the groups differ in the rate of mothers’ return to employment. For example, a positive correlation was found between the level of education and employment rates after childbirth, especially among mothers, and particularly among Arab mothers.
Mothers with an academic education tend to return to their jobs after childbirth faster than less educated mothers, and in the fourth quarter after giving birth, the employment rates of educated mothers are already quite close to the rates measured among them before childbirth. Also, the higher the level of wages before childbirth, the higher the chances of working after it. The study found that men and women who earned high wages before birth of the child tended to work after it at higher rates than those who earned lower wages. As for the employment of the fathers, it was found that it is not significantly affected by childbirth, neither in the Jewish sector nor in the Arab sector. This finding is consistent with the findings in the research literature, according to which women care for their children at the expense of their employment outside the home, while postpartum, men continue to participate in the labor market on a scale similar to those before childbirth.
Another interesting finding is related to the effect of the number of small children in a family on the employment of parents. The employment rates for parents of three children under the age of 6 are lower than for parents of one or two children, for Jewish and Arab mothers and for Jewish fathers, but not for Arab fathers.