15 Dec 2017

When mothers can't afford to work

The number of stay-at-home mothers in Ireland has fallen quite dramatically, yet they still outnumber their male counterparts by more than 40 times. Only 3 out 5 Irish women work. What seems to be the obstacle? 

Ciara Kenny
Ciara Kenny The Irish Times, Ireland
Source: The Irish Times
When mothers can't afford to work - NewsMavens
A woman at work. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

family

When it comes to educational attainment, Ireland comes top of the table in a recent World Economic Forum gender gap report, which shows there is no difference in achievement between men and women. Up to the age of about 30, women keep pace with men in the workforce.

But later in life, the chasm widens quite dramatically. For economic participation and opportunity, Ireland wallows in 49th place, due to low percentages of women in employment overall, and lower average wages.

Just 3 out of 5 women in Ireland are at work, compared to 9 out of 10 in countries such as Iceland. 

Irish Times Business journalist Fiona Reddan asks, what makes Ireland so different?

While the number of stay-at-home mothers in Ireland has fallen quite dramatically – down from 584,900 in 1998 to 417,300 this year -  they still outnumber stay-at-home dads by more than 40 times.

As Reddan writes, the choice to stay at home to mind children or elderly parents is a valid one as it plays an important societal role, but there are certain factors in the Irish economy which are contributing to our much higher than average numbers.

The biggest factor is our extraordinarily high childcare costs. In Ireland, a family earning a total of 75,000 euros will pay an average of 27% of their after-tax income on childcare, amounting to 1,177 euros a month. This compares to just 2.7%for a family in Austria, or 9.7% in France, thanks to state subsidies. 

With such high costs of childcare, especially when combined with a substantial marginal tax rate of 40%, is it any wonder so many families decide it's not worth it financially for both parents to be out at work?

Last year, fathers in Ireland became eligible for two weeks paternity leave. It is a short period of time compared to other European countries which offer much longer leave for fathers, but it is still a significant step forward in redressing the gender gap in the workforce. Especially as studies show that countries with the highest number of women in the workforce also tend to have greater shared leave for both fathers and mothers.

Participation rates are still very low however: fathers receive just 235 euros per week statutory pay, and there is still significant stigma attached to men taking family leave, even if they are entitled to it. 

As Reddan writes, "facilitating women to stay in the workforce – and then them choosing to stay at home is one thing. Making it very difficult for them to stay at work is quite another... (and) for many Irish families, it simply doesn’t pay off to have two parents working."

Details from the story:

  • 64% of women in Ireland work, compared with more than 70% of men.
  • In Iceland it is 86%, in Sweden 80%, and Canada 74%.
  • In Italy, only about one in two women work.
  • In 1986, 653,398 Irish women “looked after home/family”, with just 445 men staying at home. In 2017, the number of women looking after family has shrunk by 36% to 417,300, while the number of men minding the home has soared to 10,400.
  • For every stay at home father in Ireland, there are 40 female equivalents.
  • A family earning 75,000 euros will spend 1,177 euros a month on childcare.  
  • Workers in Ireland pay a total of 49% tax on earnings over 24,800 euros. 
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