Poorer mothers likely to return to work earlier - report

Extended family playing a greater role in childminding as parents struggle with childcare


Mothers on lower incomes are more likely to return to work early after the birth of their child, according to a major study to be published today.

The findings are drawn from Growing Up in Ireland, a research project which is tracking the lives of thousands of children. It also shows the extent to which parents rely on their extended families, in particular grandparents, for childcare.

The most common form of childcare was with a relative (42 per cent), followed by non-relatives or childminders (31 per cent) or centre-based childcare such as a creche (27 per cent).

Income played a big role. Better-off mothers were less reliant on relatives for childcare and were more likely to use creches. Those on lower incomes and young mothers were heavily reliant on relatives to help out with childminding.

The study also indicates that working mothers spend as long as they can afford raising their infants at home. Mothers who took unpaid leave, in addition to six months’ paid maternity leave, were more likely to be better-educated and on higher incomes. Those most likely to return to work after their maternity leave finished were lone parents, the self-employed or those on lower incomes.

Very few returned to work within six months of the birth of their children, according to the study based on the lives of 11,000 infants and their mothers. Mothers are entitled to six months – 26 weeks – of paid maternity leave, and 16 weeks’ additional unpaid maternity leave. Some employers allow mothers to take additional unpaid maternity leave.

The proximity of relatives to mothers played a big role in childcare choices. The closer a close relative lived, the more likely it was that they played a role in providing childcare.

There is an increased focus on quality childcare and early years’ education, but affordability appears to be a bigger issue.

Even though childcare qualifications are now common in creches or playschools, parents were more likely to use relatives or childminders who are less likely to have qualifications. There were also health issues. Infants in centre-based childcare were at the highest risk of infection, due to their exposure to other children and adults. Growing up in Ireland, a Government-funded study, is being carried out by researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute and Trinity College Dublin.