Why Mid-Career Women Are Deserting London's Workforce

Why Mid-Career Women Are Deserting London's Workforce

Why you should care

Because having children shouldn’t be a job-killing midlife experience for women.

The difference between the share of middle-aged women and men in work is greater in London than in nearly any other part of the European Union, official figures show.

Many women in the capital drop out of the workforce after having a child, citing relatively high child care costs and no family members living nearby. In fact, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD):

England has the highest child care costs of any economically advanced country — on average about 40 percent of disposable household income.

And child care costs are generally higher in London than in other parts of the country.

“It does not make financial sense for me to work,” says Lucy, a 40-year-old mother of two young children who used to be an analyst at a U.S. insurance corporation but is now a stay-at-home mom. “We would end up being poorer if I went to work,” she adds, citing the high cost of child care in the capital. “I am planning to look for a job when both kids are in school.”

Lucy is not alone. According to figures from Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, 73 percent of women between the ages of 35 and 44 are working either part-time or full-time in London, compared with 92 percent of men — meaning London has the largest “gender employment gap” for people of childbearing age across all wealthy parts of the EU.

Factoring in poorer EU regions with relatively low gross domestic product per capita, London still shows the largest overall employment gap, barring Malta and some Greek and Italian islands.

The Eurostat figures show that while more women under the age of 25 in London are in work than men of the same age, the trend reverses as people begin to have children.

However, the gender employment gap shrinks more rapidly after the age of 45 in London and the U.K. than in other leading economies, suggesting a “greater flexibility” in the job market, according to the Paris-based OECD. This means it could be easier for women to go back to work after a long period out of the labor market in Britain than in other parts of the EU.

Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics, the U.K. statistics agency, show that London is the region of the U.K. with the second-lowest employment rate among mothers (after the West Midlands), and the only region where employment rates are lower for mothers than for non-mothers.

According to the Family and Childcare Trust, a U.K. charity, the cost of sending a child under the age of 2 to nursery is more than 70 percent more expensive in London than in northwest England.

Helen, a 40-year-old graphic designer, is a London-based mother of twins. She decided to work part-time after her maternity leave, even though her child care costs exceeded her current salary. “I wanted to keep my job, but nursery fees are higher than my salary, which makes things really difficult,” she says.

The OECD has praised the British government’s efforts to increase the availability of flexible working arrangements and reduce child care costs for parents, such as expanding free child care hours for 3- and 4-year-olds.

But it stressed in a recent report that “the impact of these new measures on the actual final costs borne by parents is as yet unclear,” and child care providers have argued that a lack of government funding for the entitlement is forcing some nurseries out of business.

The availability of child care services is another pressing issue for London. Some 58 percent of local authorities in the city have reported a shortage of child care spaces for those under the age of 2, compared with 17 percent of councils in the northeast, according to the Family and Childcare Trust.

In the capital, high child care costs and a lack of child care places are combined with less family support. Claire Harding, head of research at the Family and Childcare Trust, says London’s status as a global city makes it “much less likely that Granny lives nearby.”

Katia, 39, agrees. She became a stay-at-home mom after moving to London in 2015 from Brazil, where she worked in human resources. “Over there, we had an affordable, full-time babysitter, and both my parents and my husband’s parents were happy to help.”

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By Valentina Romei

OZY partners with the U.K.'s Financial Times to bring you premium analysis and features. © The Financial Times Limited 2018.

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