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Motherhood and Employment among Migrant and Native Women

When women in Europe become mothers this often negatively affects their labour market position. Even though employment levels of migrant women are comparably low in general, little is known how motherhood affects their working life. 

Source: Mukhina1

Tine Kil, Karel Neels, Jonas Wood and Helga A.G. de Valk investigate whether the level of employment among migrant mothers differs from the level among native mothers using longitudinal microdata from the Belgian social security registers. The authors compare first- and second-generation women of Southern European, Eastern European, Turkish and Moroccan origin with native Belgian women in regard to three indicators of labour market position after the birth of their first child: Activity (versus inactivity), employment (versus unemployment) and full-time employment (versus part-time employment).   

While the data show a similar impact of motherhood on full-time versus part-time employment for native and migrant mothers, activity and employment levels decrease to a larger extent among women of migrant origin than among native women after motherhood. There are, however, significant differences between first-generation and second-generation migrant women: When looking at level of activity, the lower activity level of second-generation migrant mothers primarily reflects socio-demographic characteristics and early career disadvantages. In contrast, the activity levels of first-generation migrant mothers remain low even after controlling for socio-demographic, pre-birth job and partner characteristics. The authors assume that the remaining differences are due to other factors, such as tied migration patterns, language barriers or discrimination.

With respect to employment levels, women of migrant origin are also more likely to be unemployed after the transition to parenthood. This is only partly caused by socio-demographic, previous job and partner characteristics.  Other factors, such as differential access to stable positions and to family policies are assumed to also play an important role.

The findings show that motherhood disproportionately affects inactivity and unemployment levels of women of migrant origin in Belgium. They firmly draw attention to the challenges that parenthood creates for mothers of migrant origin in terms of retaining and gaining employment, but also to the role of labour market entry and early career positions. The authors emphasise that future longitudinal research should attempt to pinpoint these factors more precisely in order to unravel the sources of cumulative disadvantage in the employment trajectories of migrant women.