Is it the level of education or rather the presence of a child which leads women to full-time, part-time or no employment at all? And do policies encouraging both male and female employment matter?

These questions have been answered in a recent study comparing five European countries, namely Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, and Norway, using data from the Gender and Generations survey for these countries.  Couples where both partners have the same educational level and where the woman’s age is between 20–45 were selected.

First of all, independently of their educational level, childless women are usually employed. The presence of children, however, creates changes: The higher the educational level, the higher the likelihood of mothers being employed. There are, however, differences across the countries:

In Austria and Germany, for instance, regardless of their educational level, mothers with a child below the age of three tend not to be in employment, and if they are, it is mostly part-time. The intensity of employment raise gradually as children become older.

In Hungary, on the other hand, mothers tend to work full-time rather than part-time.

In France and Norway, the authors found that the effect the child has on mother’s employment is less visible throughout the life course, and that the level of education matters more.  In these two countries dual-earner arrangements dominate even in the presence of small children.

Overall, even if a country is supportive for women’s employment, education matters. In such countries, higher educational levels tend to lead towards higher employment levels. However in the least it can be said that if family policies encourage both male and female employment, the effect of the level of education is reduced.


What does this mean?

It is a tightly knit network of values, educational levels, having a child and the age of the child, as well as gender-oriented employment policies, that combined either encourage or discourage female employment. Opportunities in the labor market seem to matter although they may also be a reflection of the culture. If the society’s value system favors mothers staying at home at least while their children are very young, then the presence of the child below the age of three eclipses the effect of education, meaning that, when possible, women will stay at home or work part-time regardless of their educational level On the other hand, in less traditional value systems, the effects of education  on mother’s employment are more pronounced.

There is no doubt that education has an effect on human behavior, and that it has an equalizing effect on gender issues – if supported by a family policy encouraging dual-earner arrangements and not hindered by a gender-specific value system.


Source: Steiber, Nadia; Berghammer, Caroline & Haas Barbara. 2016. Contextualizing the Education Effect on Women’s Employment: A Cross-National Comparative Analysis, Journal of Marriage and Family 78, 246 – 261.

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