Timing of single motherhood: implications for employment careers in Great Britain and West Germany
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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.