Working Mothers in Japan, Ireland and Austria Need a Hand, Say OECD Researchers


04/11/2003 -  For many mothers in Japan, Ireland and Austria, raising a family and pursuing a career are mutually exclusive activities, concludes a new OECD study.

Babies and Bosses: reconciling work and family life in Austria, Ireland and Japan examines how taxes, government benefits, childcare and employment policies affect parents’ work lives and influence the formation of families.


As in most OECD countries, women in these three countries increasingly want work and careers. Much has been done to help parents, particularly of young children. However, birth rates continue to decline, raising the possibility of future labour shortages. More needs to be done to increase employment while ensuring that children get the care they need.

In Japan, for instance, the study says that a looming labour shortage would never materialize if females joined the labour force in the same numbers as their male counterparts. However, some aspects of government policy and employer practices currently discourage women from working after they have children. Changes are needed in Japan’s labour market to provide them with the flexible hours, attractive jobs, decent wages and career prospects needed to entice them back into employment.

Today about 70% of Japanese female workers withdraw from the labour market after they have children. If they go back to work when their children are older, they often land in low-paid, precarious jobs. Government rules for health insurance and pensions, as well as companies’ benefits for spouses, discourage women from earning more than a modest amount. As a result, mothers who return to work often end up in jobs that are below their capabilities. Even well-educated Japanese women have difficulty combining careers and motherhood: 65% of Japanese women with a university education work, compared to 95% of Japanese men with a similar level of education.

Austria’s commitment to the welfare of children is evident in the country’s high level of public spending on family benefits and low incidence of child poverty. Compared to other OECD countries, Austria gives significantly more support to families where one parent is occupied full-time with child rearing. This makes it financially feasible for one parent to choose not to work - even for a period of years. As a result, many mothers are absent from regular work for long periods and find it difficult later to resume their careers. If they decide to return to work when their children are young, a shortage of affordable childcare often forces them into low-paying, part-time jobs with few opportunities for advancement.
Ireland has a similar shortage of affordable childcare. Children of working mothers in Ireland have traditionally been looked after by family or friends. But as increasing numbers of women take jobs, the supply of casual babysitters has declined. The rate of employment among females in Ireland jumped 15 percentage points since 1994 to 54% and at 78% the employment rate of young women aged 25-29 is now higher than in most OECD countries. In future, working Irish mothers will be far more dependent on formal childcare. To increase work opportunities for mothers, additional public investment in childcare will be needed -- especially for low-income families.

To receive a copy of the book, journalists are invited to contact the OECD Media Relations Division [tel. (33) 1 45 24 97 00]. For further information journalists are invited to contact Willem Adema, project manager of the OECD family-friendly policy reviews [tel. (33) 1 45 24 15 57], Christopher Prinz [tel. (33) 1 45 24 94 83] or Mark Pearson, [tel. (33) 1 45 24 92 69].

Subscribers and readers at subscribing institutions can access the study via SourceOECD our online library. Non-subscribers will be able to purchase the study via our Online Bookshop.

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