Work Re-entry After Childbirth

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Research Briefs

Researchers Debunk the ‘Full Adult Worker’ Model and Draw Attention to Women’s Education

A research study led by University of Ottawa Professor Stéphanie Gaudet contributes to debunking the myth that in 1999 Canada had already achieved a “full adult worker” model. This model assumes roughly equal gender representation in paid work. One of the most critical findings was that since the mid-1980s to 1999, mothers with lower education were largely excluded from the labor market during the two years following the birth of their first child. What is more, using the 2001 General Social Survey, Gaudet and her colleagues uncovered that nearly 60% of women who had their first child from 1970 to 1999 were out of the labor force for more than two years after this first birth. Over the period, there was a slow and steady increase towards the full adult worker model, but in 1999, it had not yet been achieved.

These are critical findings in combination with previous research showing that employment before the first birth, and a quick return to work, represent an important protection factor for women against poverty. The researchers remark “this may have important economic consequences for women and their families as it can affect women’s retirement savings, human capital development, and career advancement”. Gaudet and her co-authors add that the findings must be viewed through a lifecourse perspective. Put simply, a lifecourse approach attempts to capture the potential for cumulative impact over the course of a person’s life. For women, being absent from paid employment for over 24 months could lead to reduced resources available to cope with other negative events.

For Canadian policy makers, these findings point to at least two considerations that can influence the well-being of Canadian women and their families. First, differences between women who had their first child in the early 1970s and those in the late 1990s can provide insights into how these groups of women enter older ages. This can be especially pertinent with respect to fluctuations in lifelong labor force activity that affects income later in life. Second, policy makers must be concerned about women’s level of education when seeking to address factors leading to poverty.

For more information, contact Stephanie.Gaudet
A summary of the research can be found at

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