Research by the Social and Cultural Planning Bureau (SCP) published on Wednesday shows that two-thirds of women do not return to the number of hours they worked before they had children. Those who do work the same number of hours, did so part-time or not at all before their motherhood. With the arrival of children, paid work has therefore been put on the back burner for most women.
According to SCP researcher Wil Portegijs, this is the result of the part-time culture and structure in our country. As soon as they have children, most women start working part-time and a small number stop altogether. ‘The man thus becomes primarily responsible for the income and the woman for the ins and outs at home,’ says Portegijs. ‘And once you work part-time, it is logical that at a later moment the informal care and voluntary work will also be on your plate. That way you stay in that part-time job.’
The study will be published when part-time work is once again in the limelight. In order to alleviate the acute staff shortages, the House of Representatives again pointed to women last week: if they worked more hours, shortages in sectors such as care and education would be solved. Women still work on average only 28 hours. The proportion of those in full-time employment is now barely higher than it was half a century ago.
According to Portegijs, there is a blind spot in this discussion for mothers with older children, even though they are the largest group of women working part-time. ‘It’s always about mothers with small children, but more than half of the women who work part-time have no young children at all. There is an enormous labor potential there that is relatively easy to tap into. The mothers themselves also say that they are less busy than when their children were small.’
The interventions to stimulate the participation of women in the labor market also focus exclusively on young mothers. For example, the cabinet wants to make childcare free and last month extended parental leave to 26 weeks. According to Portegijs, there is nothing wrong with that, because preventing women from drastically reducing their working hours is after all better than ‘curing’. ‘But that is of no use to the older mothers of today, it will not solve the current shortages in the labor market.’
According to the researcher, employers could start talking to older women working part-time as early as tomorrow about what they need to work more hours. She doubts whether a full-time bonus, as the government wants, will be the deciding factor: although it is important that women do not suffer if they start working more (due to the loss of allowances), financial incentives do not really seem to work. ‘After years of part-time work, women no longer feel so responsible for making a living.’
Not an easy solution
According to sociologist Mara Yerkes of Utrecht University, the SCP research clearly shows that the ‘part-time problem’ has no easy solution. ‘Good childcare and paid leave are insufficient: policymakers also have to think about the longer term.’ According to the researcher, it requires, among other things, that informal care is taken more seriously. After all, where free childcare is set up for children, that for the elderly is becoming more and more austere. ‘The participatory society demands that we take over tasks, but that is now done more often by women than men.’
All in all, according to Portegijs, a choice must be made as to how we want to organize work and care in the future. “Now we’re in two minds,” she says. ‘Society assumes that there are part-time working mothers who can provide informal care, do voluntary work and be in the school yard at 3 o’clock. But at the same time they are also accused of being part-time princesses because they work too little.’
Thea de Jong (48), works 28 hours in specialist home care, has two children aged 16 and 17
‘When I became a mother, I started working part-time. None of my employers ever asked if I wanted more hours. It’s not really possible in my job either: if I wanted to work 40 hours, I would have to work five day shifts. But I also have to take on availability services in the evenings and weekends. I am single, so I think it is important that someone is home for the children. I myself come from a family in which my mother used to have tea and cookies after school.
‘I am certainly willing to work more hours, but then my working hours will have to be arranged differently. And it should pay off at the bottom. I have no idea, but I read on social media that you can lose allowances if you start working more. If that’s true, I’ll cut myself. Maybe when the children are 18 and the child benefit and the child budget are no longer available, I’ll do it.’
Marjolein Hensen (44), is a teacher at a university of applied sciences, has two children aged 8 and 11
‘Since the birth of my oldest daughter I started working 28 hours, before that I worked 36 hours. That was a very conscious choice for me and still is. I want to experience the growing up of my children up close. The little things: that your son comes home from school on Wednesday afternoons and brings friends that you get to know. That you have time to watch football training.
‘I find the discussion about part-time work rather polarized. It’s not a matter of right or wrong. Everyone should do what suits him or her. And I think it’s my job not only to contribute with work, but also to educate my children. Moreover, I do my part: I do volunteer work at the hockey club and I am a member of the parents’ council. My partner who works full time does none of that. Incidentally, it is mainly mothers that I see there.’