The price of motherhood

April 29, 2024 21:59

Recently, an article by a local think tank MWYO on the employment support for young single parents in Hong Kong points out that although nearly 40% of these young people (aged 18 to 34) who do not live with their spouses have postsecondary education, most of them only work part-time. For those holding degrees, 13% of them, in contrast with 6.2% of the entire youth group, only work 17 hours or less per week, so they are unable to enjoy the statutory benefits of continuous employment contracts, such as paid annual leave, medical allowances, and more. The obstacles for single-parent youth to work full-time is the inability to balance work and family care.

Although the article does not mention the ratio of male to female, it can be taken that women make up the majority, which is the so-called "child penalty".

Earlier, three scholars from the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, and Princeton University in the United States analysed the data of 134 countries accounting for 95% of the world’s population, comparing the age, education, marital status of mothers and fathers, with those without children. It is found that missing out or delaying promotions or other career opportunities have limited women's lifetime earnings.

Therefore, it can be defined as the "motherhood penalty".

According to the analysis, 95% of the world's population between the ages of 25 and 54 are in the labour force while the figure of women is only 52%. Parenthood is a watershed with men and women earning similar incomes before this, but then there is a clear and persistent divergence in income after having a child, especially in rich economies.

The "motherhood penalty" refers to a significant decline in women's employment income in the decade after the birth of their first child, with an average of 24% of women leaving their jobs in the first year, 17% still absent from the labour market after five years, and 15% after 10 years.
Some netizens commented that childcare is a wonderful job – if it “didn't increase the risk of poverty” – "In my country, Belgium, women are three times more likely to be at risk of poverty, a risk that is exacerbated by motherhood."

The International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency, estimated that in 2018, over 600 million working-age women across the world were unable to work because of need to take care of family, compared with 41 million men.

Therefore, childcare service is key to mitigating the “motherhood penalty".

A local researcher compares community babysitting services in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and found the former performs much better. According to government information, volunteers working as home-based child carers help to take care of young children in the neighbourhood. But Hong Kong is lagging far behind in terms of professional training, childcare settings, regulation and financial support. For example, in Taiwan, a minimum of 126 hours of courses are required for child carer qualifications while Hong Kong is now proposing to increase training to 14 hours only. Regarding the monthly fee, parents in Taiwan only need to pay NT$5,000 (about HK1,250), less than 30% of Hong Kong's due to government subsidies.

Many families in Hong Kong are unable to afford a foreign domestic helper, so in order to enable women, especially single-parent youths to re-enter the workforce and improve their lives, the government should strengthen its employment supporting policies in childcare and flexible work.

Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong