How does parenthood affect the careers of women and men?

Despite a sharp rise in the employment rate among women, there are still major gaps between genders on the labour market. This article analyses these gaps through the lens of parenthood.

With the birth of a child, men and women effectively make very different choices about their labour market participation. Giving up their job or reducing working hours boils down to an essentially female choice. They are both options that penalise women in terms of career opportunities and pay. For men, on the other hand, the impact of parenthood is neutral or even gives them an incentive to work more. In other words, even today, women are still faced with a delicate balance between having children and pursuing a career, which is not the case for men. The fact that household chores as well as the upbringing of children rests more squarely on women’s shoulders leads to these divergences.

The various public policies designed to reconcile family and work, such as parental leave, are mainly used by working mums. Recourse to these schemes is perceived as a sign of weaker attachment to the labour market, which in turn tends to reinforce gender stereotypes. It is also detrimental to women over the longer term owing to the reduction of experience gained.

In Belgium, even in 2021, the sobering conclusion is that while women are on average better educated than men and at a time when the economy is struggling to find skilled workers in sufficient numbers, gender norms and unequal sharing of responsibilities within families continues to weigh heavily on female labour market participation.