Capable of change? The impact of policy on the reconciliation of paid work and care in couples with children
Graham, Helen Marion
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This research examines the impact of work-family reconciliation policies on gender inequality in the labour market, and on the division of paid work and care in the household. Policies designed to help families meet their work and care responsibilities have undergone considerable reform over the last fifteen years. The research aims to understand how this has affected the way that earning and caring are divided between mothers and fathers, and the implications of this for mothers’ labour market outcomes. The research compares two cohorts; the National Child Development Study (NCDS) tracks individuals born in 1958, and the British Cohort Study (BCS) those born in 1970. These cohorts experienced the key childbearing years of their early thirties on either side of a fairly sharp discontinuity in work-family reconciliation policy. The research aims to link this difference in policy environments to differences the way that couples in each cohort divide paid work and care, and in the labour market behaviour of mothers and the penalties they face when they are in employment. Logistic regression models are employed to quantify the magnitude and significance of the impact of cohort membership on the work and care outcomes of interest, controlling for other variables that affect these outcomes. Some case-level analysis of the data is also carried out; individuals representing typical family arrangements are highlighted, to demonstrate the relevance of the theoretical model and assist with hypothesis generation. Case stories illustrate the interplay of individual circumstances with policy and other external factors, in a way that is difficult to achieve using statistical methods. A key finding is that the younger cohort is less likely to report equal sharing of childcare than the older cohort, even after controlling for other factors that might influence the division of labour. This is also in spite of the finding that mothers in the younger cohort are more likely to be in work. This suggests progress to some extent, in that mothers perhaps find it easier to be in employment. However at the same time it represents a regressive step at the household level, as they not only continue to shoulder the majority of the care work, but are even more inclined to do so. Analysis of pay and status gaps also yields interesting results. The findings suggest that the penalty to motherhood in terms of labour market status accrues by virtue of the interrupted human capital accumulation that results from periods out of the labour market or working part time. However, the motherhood penalty in pay persists even after controlling for other wage determinants, suggesting that these gaps are a direct result of motherhood itself and not of the labour market behaviour changes that occur as a result. The research contributes theoretically and substantively to the wider literature on this topic. It brings together human capital perspectives with theories of gender, power and resources, and of the impact of policy on family life, and uses Amartya Sen’s capability approach to reconcile and move forward these ideas. It also contributes to the practical understanding of the impact of policy on the way that families reconcile work and care, and in particular the implications of policy for gender equality. Finally, its methodological contribution is in the use of a narrative approach to large-scale quantitative data, alongside more conventional statistical techniques, in order to further exploit the detailed, longitudinal data available.