Javornik, Jana Skrbinsek
Exploring maternal employment in post-socialist countries: understanding the implications of childcare policies.
University of Southampton, School of Social Sciences: Sociology and Social Policy,
Access to paid employment has conspicuous economic, political, cultural and social
implications, for both personal autonomy and gender equality. Eight most advanced postsocialist
countries that entered the European Union in 2004 have boasted comparatively
high full-time employment rates for women since the socialist period. However, the
proportion of women who withdraw from paid employment when they care for pre-school
children differs significantly among these countries. This thesis examines why women’s
employment rates drop so sharply subsequent to childbirth in some of the post-socialist
countries, but not the others. It seeks to answer this question by exploring childcare
policies. The main research question is whether, and how, these policies shape mothers’
employment in the eight countries.
This thesis first analyzes the emancipatory potential of national policies on childcare
leave and formal childcare service provision between 2000 and 2008, in order to determine
whether or not childcare policies provide options for carers to engage in paid employment.
It probes the applicability of the varieties of familialism literature to the post-socialist
countries, and draws attention to policy characteristics that received insufficient attention
in earlier comparative research. It finds that among eight post-socialist countries Slovenia
and Lithuania create conditions for women’s continuous employment, while Hungary, the
Czech Republic and Estonia provide financial incentives for women to retreat from the
labour force for a longer period after childbirth, whereas parents in Poland, Slovakia and
Latvia are left nearly without public support.
Drawing upon maternal employment data, the thesis finds evidence in favour of the
childcare policies explanation. In countries with gender-neutral leave of moderate duration
and affordable, adequate and accessible formal childcare services the employment rates for
mothers with pre-school children are significantly higher than in other countries. Such
policies are especially important for the employment of low-skilled and low-income
mothers with pre-school children, who are usually employed in less protected and less
secured jobs. The thesis also suggests that educational attainment and the income needs of
households suppress rather than rival the childcare policies explanation, and that the
unregulated service markets and day care by other family members account for mothers’
employment in countries with limited state support. The findings in this thesis underpin
the importance of childcare policies for enhancing women’s continuous employment and
indicate that childcare policies have broader social implications upon women’s economic
and personal autonomy.
The thesis sheds new light on childcare policies and maternal employment trends in
eight post-socialist countries. It helps differentiate their overly simplistic characterization in
earlier comparative research, and allows a more meaningful discussion of how childcare
policies shape employment practices of mothers with pre-school children.
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