Impact of parenthood on careers of young men and women

According to the ‘Generation 98’ survey findings, the work-life organisation of parents after the birth of children results in a contrasted picture of men’s and women’s professional development, noticeably for less qualified people. Young fathers invest more than young mothers in their professional life: their average income increases with the number of children, while their contribution to housework tends to decline. For young mothers, the reverse is true.

About the survey

The third wave of the ‘Generation 98’ survey (in French), conducted by the Centre for Studies and Research on Qualifications (Centre d’Études et de Recherches sur les Qualifications, CEREQ) in the autumn of 2005, focuses on the career path of a sample of 16,000 young people who finished their initial education in 1998, regardless of their level of qualification or specialisation. The survey covers their first seven years of working life and thus provides detailed information on the job(s) occupied since they left school, their educational background and their family situation.

In May 2007, CEREQ published an analysis of the survey results, looking at the impact of living in a couple and being a parent on the professional development of young people.

Having children impacts on young women’s career

Young women generally leave the parental home and start a family earlier than men. Seven years after the end of their studies, 75% of women live in a couple and 50% have children, compared with respectively 50% and 25% of men.

Having children has little bearing on the professional situation of young men living in a couple. Whether or not they have children, most men work full time after seven years in the labour market. Moreover, their income does not vary in relation to the number of children that they have.

The professional situation of young women, however, differs noticeably when they have children, regardless of their level of education. Firstly, many more women with children are out of employment: in 2005, some 20% of women with children were economically inactive and 10% were unemployed, compared with respectively 3% and 8% of women without children. Secondly, the proportion of mothers working full time declines with the number of children. This gap is significant at all levels of qualification. For instance, among women holding a university degree corresponding to the first stage of third-level education (International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) level 5), only 49% of them work full time when they have several children, compared with 92% of those without children.

It seems that differences in the employment status between men and women, who have been economically active for seven years, are directly related to having children. After the birth of their first child, 17% of young women move to part-time work, 11% change occupation, 8% resign from their job and 4% take up parental leave. The birth of a second child brings further changes to the employment situation of young mothers, with 31% of women shifting to part-time work and 16% taking up parental leave.

Impact of sharing domestic tasks on working life

The third wave of the ‘Generation 98’ survey also shows that, as the family grows and various events occur in working life, young couples tend to follow traditional patterns for sharing household tasks. Some 37% of women, and less than 3% of men, declare doing regularly most of the following tasks: hoovering, preparing meals and shopping. With an increasing number of children, this gap widens further: the proportion of men doing none of these household tasks rises along with the number of women doing all of these tasks, as well as taking care of the children. Such a widening gap in the distribution of household responsibilities is more significant for less qualified women, since higher qualified women more frequently employ external help.

Measured in terms of the average wage, these choices influence noticeably the professional situation of women (see table below). For example, relative to the number of children in a household, the average wage of each partner in a couple who delegate some of the household responsibilities to a third person does vary to a lesser extent than that of partners where the woman works full time and has full responsibility for all household tasks. Moreover, the wages of mothers working full time, as well as taking on all of the household responsibilities, decline as the number of children increases.

Average gross wage and involvement in household tasks for young high-skilled workers*, by gender, 2005 (€)
No. of children Women Men
Working full time All active women All active men
Very involved in housework Use of external help Very involved in housework Use of external help All Not very involved in housework Use of external help All
None 1,500 1,700 1,500 1,680 1,600 1,740 2,200 1,900
1 child 1,500 1,770 1,450 1,730 1,510 2,030 2,450 1,900
More than 1 child 1,410 2,040 1,280 1,700 1,410 2,220 2,330 2,000

Note: * After seven years in the labour market holding a third level qualification (ISCED level 5).

The survey participants were asked the following questions: ‘Who most often hoovers in your couple?’, ‘Who most often cooks dinner when you are both at home?’ and ‘Who most often does the shopping?’ Those who declared doing all three tasks most often were considered as being mainly responsible for housework.

Source: CEREQ, 2007

It is worthwhile noting that the distribution of household tasks in couples may also have wider consequences for women, including an economical risk in the case of a separation. After seven years of an economically active life, 30% of single mothers are unemployed, while only 54% have a full-time job. Even in couples where women and men work and earn the same wage, in 25% of cases women do most of the housework.


Couppié, T. and Epiphane, D., CEREQ, ‘Vivre en couple et être parent : impact sur les débuts de carrière’ (129Kb PDF) [Living in a couple and being a parent: Impact on professional development], Bref, No. 241, May 2007.

Anne-Marie Nicot, National Agency for the Improvement of Working Conditions (Agence nationale pour l’amélioration des conditions de travail, ANACT)

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