A study carried out in the ‘90s compared data on the impact of discontinuous work histories of young women (up to the age of 36) in Germany, Sweden and the US asking the following question: Does a disruption in work history, be it for family reasons (parental leave or homemaking), reasons of unemployment or any other reason except education lead to a downward mobility in the labor market?

Since leave in general is considered to lead to a decrease in skills, one should expect no differences in the type of leave, but rather an influence of legislation on parental leave, employment protection and unemployment insurance. Sweden is known for its very generous legislation on parental leave promoting equality between men and women and paying generously, even up to 80 percent for the first ninety days of parental leave. West Germany has a different system, but also a generous one, which has been affording employment protection during parental leave since 1992 for up to three years and providing partial payment during this period.  The United States introduced parental leave policy only in 1993 entailing three months unpaid leave for family care, including care of newborn children.

Women in different countries have faced different legislation policies and have felt their effects. How do these policies affect the re-entry of women into the working force?

The impact of parental leave on women’s career is as follows:

For Swedish women, a longer duration of family leave might make upward mobility less likely but it certainly does not contribute to downward mobility. In Germany, no correlation with up- or downward mobility was found, while in the US downward mobility was more likely.

The impact of unemployment on women’s career is as follows:

The longer the period of unemployment in Germany and in the US, the more likely the downward mobility, while in Sweden no effects were shown. In the US, for some women an upward mobility effect could also be observed.

Other tested reasons showed no effect.


What does this mean?

One might think that employment interruption might lead to a decrease in work skills and that any kind of leave might therefore lead to downward mobility. But differences can be observed: Parental leave and unemployment make upward mobility unlikely, and can create risks of downward mobility, though these risks are different in the countries studied due to the legislation system. This should, however, create optimism because legislation influencing the labor market can create better chances for women. Politics can produce valuable outcomes for the people.


Source:  Evertsson, Marie; Grunow, Daniela & Aisenbrey, Silke 2016. Work interruptions and young women’s career prospects in Germany, Sweden and the US. Work, employment and society, Vol. 30(2), 291 – 308.


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