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September 28, 2022 – The odds are stacked against mothers trying to re-enter the labour market compared to fathers, according to a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute.

In “Uneven Odds: Men, Women and the Obstacles to Getting Back to Work with Kids,” authors Tammy Schirle, Ana Ferrer and Annie (Yazhuo) Pan examine the experience and employment outcomes of thousands of married and common-law parents aged 25 to 59, with children under 18-years-old, seeking paid employment in the Canadian labour market.

Mothers often face obstacles that fathers don’t, they find. “Many fathers search for work following job loss with the help of existing employment insurance (EI) programs,” says Schirle, Wilfrid Laurier University Professor of Economics and C.D. Howe Institute Roger Phillips Scholar of Social Policy. “Many mothers searching for paid work, however, may find it more difficult to find support from EI as they are often re-entering the labour force after time away caring for children and managing their households. Unlike fathers, the presence of young children appears to be an important factor impeding mothers’ search for employment.”

Schirle, Ferrer and Pan estimate the likelihood of entering the labour force within each decade, as it relates to the age of a mother or father’s youngest child.

A mother’s probability of entering the labour force is lowest when the youngest child is one year old, then increases with the age of the child up to around age seven, and remains fairly stable afterwards, explain the authors. Further, on average, women with children ages seven or older are over six percentage points more likely to transition into the labour force than women whose youngest child is two-years-old. In contrast, among fathers who have spent time away from the labour force, the age of the youngest child appears to be largely irrelevant to their re-entry.

The authors propose four major areas where policies can be improved to support jobless parents. They highlight the need for: i) policies that address traditional gender roles and wage gaps; (ii) policies that ensure affordable childcare options are available; (iii) policies that boost potential wages of women and narrow the gender wage gap; and (iv) policies that offer skills training as well as financial support for job search costs and services such as transportation and childcare.

“When thinking about policies to promote long-term growth, it is useful to look at the experience of people who would like to work in terms of what they were doing before they started searching, such as managing a home or caring for children,” says Ferrer. “There is a role for policy to further support Canadian parent’s job search efforts and acknowledge the differences in challenges encountered by mothers and fathers seeking to re-enter the labour market.”

Read the Full Report

For more information contact: Tammy Schirle, Professor of Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University and Roger Phillips Scholar of Social Policy, C.D. Howe Institute; Ana Ferrer, Professor of Economics, University of Waterloo; Annie (Yazhuo) Pan, former Research Officer at the Research Initiative on Education + Skills, University of Toronto; or Lauren Malyk, Communications Officer, C.D. Howe Institute, 416-865-1904 Ext. 0247, lmalyk@cdhowe.org

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada's most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.