More than 40 per cent of Kiwi mums are back at work or
looking for a job before their child turns one.
Figures provided to the Herald for the past 15 years show the
proportion of mothers with babies who stay at home dropped
from 65 per cent in 1997 to 58.42 per cent this year.
Mothers say that as the cost of food, electricity and other
items continues to rise, they are often left with no choice
but to return to work.
There were 62,300 women with a child under 12 months in July,
according to Statistics New Zealand's Household Labour Force
Survey. Of those, 23,900 were employed and 2000 were looking
for a job - representing 41.57 per cent of the group.
The figure had jumped 2 per cent since 2007, 5 per cent since
2002 and 8 per cent on 1997.
The co-owner of social networking site Mums on Top, Kylie
Power, said the cost of living had pushed many women back
into the workforce.
"It's quite expensive to have a child. Women are putting
children in childcare earlier than ... in the past.
"It's also good for the mental state. Work can be a very nice
place to be, a good break to talk to other adults."
Mrs Power returned to work as a primary school teacher in
Palmerston North nine weeks after her son was born in 1999,
and 11 months after her daughter was born in 2003.
Women then did not always accept working mothers, she said.
"In coffee groups, you'd get a lot of finger pointing. A lot
of 'Why are you going back to work?' I'd like to think it's
relaxed a little bit now."
In February, Mrs Power and business partner Emma Bettle took
over Mums on Top, a private online community where women, and
sometimes men, can vent.
"We get everything from 'I'm thinking of having an affair' to
'What sort of cake can I make for my 13-year-old?"'
There have been several conflicting studies over the past two
decades of the effects on children whose mothers go back to
work in the first year of their lives.
The Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex
University found that children of mothers who went back to
work within the first three years were slower learners.
But a University College London study last year found
children whose mothers returned within the first year were
less likely to fight with their classmates or become anxious
than if their mothers stayed at home, partly because mothers
with jobs were less likely to be depressed.
In a New Zealand survey this year, 52 per cent of mothers
said they felt guilty about their work and life balance and
the amount of time they spent with their children.
But more than half of those surveyed said they took time away
from their kids to "maintain their sanity".
Claims in a 2010 opinion piece by Jenny Dillon published in
Sydney's Daily Telegraph that working mothers should quit
complaining because they "have never had it so good" caused
outrage from Australian and Kiwi mothers who said juggling
parenting and work was no easy task.
The Labour Force Survey showed the percentage of women not
employed but looking for work was the highest in 1997 at 4.13
per cent, suggesting workplaces were less flexible then for
Dr Ann Weatherall, editor of the Women's Studies Journal and
an associate professor in psychology at Victoria University,
said the introduction of 20 hours of free childcare helped
more New Zealand women get back into work.
"Also mothers are getting older so are more likely to have
jobs to return to. There was in that period good government
support to have young children in quality childcare, so the
availability of that might also be a cause."
She said "it'll be interesting" to see if the trend reverses
under National, which in 2010 changed the scheme so it
applied only to teacher-led early childhood education.
- by Alanah Eriksen of the NZ Herald