Employment rates of women and men with children

Employment rates declined in Finland during the recession in the early 1990s. In recent years, the employment rate of fathers has almost returned to the level of the 1980s whereas mothers’ employment rates have not risen equally, according to the study ‘Mothers and fathers in the labour market 1989-2002/2003’. During the recession, mothers increasingly took advantage of home care leave, which allows the parent to stay at home until the child is three years old. This has been reflected in women’s lower employment rate since unlike the situation for parental leave, parents on home care leave are not counted as part of the labour force.

Parents in the labour market

The nationwide research programme ‘Increasing the attractiveness of working life’, conducted as part of the VETO programme (in Finnish) under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (Sosiaali- ja terveysministeriö), has financed projects which focus on employees who are ageing or who have families. One such study, Mothers and fathers in the labour market 1989-2002/2003, carried out in 2005 by Anita Haataja of the Government Institute for Economic Research (Valtion taloudellinen tutkimuskeskus, VATT), provides background information on the position of parents in the labour market. As the data from 2003 were flawed, some of the results are given only up to 2002 – the timescale is specified in the text where it includes 2003. The main research objective was to examine trends in the employment of women and men, and to identify the extent to which work–life balance policies influence the situation of parents and of those without children.

The timescale of the study is from the end of the 1980s through the recession of the early 1990s up to the economic growth period of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Mothers and fathers are defined as persons with dependent children aged under 18 years. Between 1989 and 2003, the proportion of mothers in the labour force declined from 40% to 34%, while the proportion of fathers decreased from 37% to 30%. However, it should be borne in mind that the overall number of mothers and fathers has also decreased as a consequence of population ageing in Finland.

Provisions for maternity and parental leave

Since one focus of the study is to determine the effects of work–life balance policies, the Finnish system should first be explained. Maternity leave and the subsequent parental leave, which is mostly used by mothers, amount to about 10 months in total; the leave allowances are income-related and currently correspond to about 70% of the parent’s income (FI0603059I). However, in the majority of families, one of the parents – usually the mother – continues the parental leave period by taking home care leave. This enables the parent to look after a child under the age of three years with full employment security, while receiving a home care allowance; in 2002, this allowance amounted to approximately €350 a month. Parents on home care leave are not counted as part of the labour force, unlike those who are on maternity or parental leave, but are counted as being in employment. With the use of home care leave having become so widespread, it has negatively affected the employment rate of women.

Therefore, having children has a different impact on the employment rates of women and men. At the beginning of the 2000s, in the 25 to 44 year age group, mothers’ employment rates were lower than those of women without children. The opposite was true for 25 to 44 year old fathers: their employment rate was about 15 percentage points higher than that of men without children in the same age group (see Table below).

Employment and education

Employment rates up to 2002 have been lower since the period prior to the recession in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, the employment rate of fathers has almost returned to the same level as that at the end of the 1980s, whereas the employment rate of men aged 25–44 years without children has decreased by 10 percentage points (see Table). For mothers, the employment rate has declined by about eight percentage points; in addition, the employment situation of single mothers has declined more than that of other mothers. Overall, parents are more likely to be employed than persons without children are.

Employment rates of men and women, 1989, 1995 and 2002 (%)
Employment rates of men and women by age and family status in 1989, 1995 and 2002, and changes in the rates between 1989 and 2002 (%)
Employment rates 1989 (%) 1995 (%) 2002 (%) Change 1989–2002 (percentage points)
Men 76.5 60.2 68.3 -8
All fathers 93.5 81.6 89.3 -4
Fathers of under 7 year olds 95.1 83.3 90.8 -4
Fathers of over 7 year olds 91.7 79.9 88 -4
Fathers aged 25–44 years 95.8 83 92.8 -3
Men aged 25–44 years, no children 88.2 69 78.2 -10
All men, no children 66.4 50.2 59.1 -7
Women 70 57.9 65.2 -5
All mothers 83.5 65.8 75.8 -8
Mothers of under 7 year olds 76.6 52.8 66.4 -10
Mothers of over 7 year olds 90.1 78.7 83.9 -6
Mothers aged 25–44 years 84.9 66.2 76.2 -9
Women aged 25–44 years, no children 86.3 74.8 79.7 -7
All women, no children 60.9 53.2 59.4 -2

Source: Haataja, A., for Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 2005

Education can explain some of the changes in employment rates. On the one hand, for those who only have a basic education, the position in the labour market has weakened considerably. On the other hand, the proportion of parents with only a basic education has decreased. At the same time, the employment rate of fathers of small children who have a basic education has started to increase again after the recession years. However, the employment rates of fathers of children aged over seven years and of all mothers have remained low among those who only have a basic education. Mothers and fathers with a higher education have integrated best into the labour market; their employment rates have almost reached the same level as those observed in the 1980s.

Between 1989 and 2003, the proportion of the working age population who remain outside the labour force increased by 10%. For women and men without children, and for fathers, the main reasons for being outside the labour force are studying and disability to work. Mothers are outside the labour force mainly because they are on home care allowance, caring for a child aged under three years. Moreover, the people who are outside the labour force usually have a lower level of education than those in the labour force.

Job security and part-time work

The number of jobs in Finland has remained at about the same level in the 2000s as it was before the recession in the late 1980s. However, the status of jobs has changed as temporary employment and part-time work have become more common. As for all employees, the number of parents with fixed-term employment contracts has also increased. In relation to part-time work, women and men without children work part time more often than parents do. In 40%–50% of cases, people work part time because no full-time jobs are available. Studying is also a common reason for working part time. Almost 50% of mothers of small children who work part time do so because they want to take care of their children. Nevertheless, in 2003, less than 10% of working mothers of small children actually worked part time.


Having children affects the position of people of working age in the labour market. The situation of mothers in this respect has declined since 1989, while fathers have maintained their position in the labour market. Work–life balance policies of the 1990s, such as the changes made in childcare allowance, have influenced these labour market trends. Although entitlement to family leave and childcare benefits is not gender-bound, mothers avail of the majority of such entitlements. On average, men’s take-up of parental leave amounts to only around one tenth of that of women (FI0409NU06; for a European comparison, see Foundation report Working time and work–life balance in European companies).

It can therefore be said that these benefits have contributed to the division of work in terms of gainful employment and childcare among parents. In April 2005, the Finnish Equality Act was amended to place greater emphasis on equality plans in the workplace. Among its objectives, the legislation aims to encourage more men to take family leave (FI0506NU01).

Reference and further information

Haataja, A., Äidit ja isät työmarkkinoilla 1989-2002/2003, [Mothers and fathers in the labour market 1989-2002/2003], in Finnish only, Helsinki, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 2005.

For more information at European level, see the EWCO topic report Combining family and full-time work (TN0510TR02).

Maija Lyly-yrjanainen, Statistics Finland




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