Working paper

Fired and pregnant: gender differences in job flexibility outcomes after job loss

Labour force participation Flexible work Gender equity Gender gap Mothers and employment

In recent decades, governments and firms have put in much effort to narrow gender gaps in employment and wages. The main motivation of this paper is to assess whether gender-related persistence in job flexibility outcomes, as measured by work hours and commuting distance, prevents further closing of gender gaps. Using unique administrative monthly micro data from Statistics Netherlands over the period 2006-2017 and a quasi-experimental design involving job displacement because of firm bankruptcy, we investigate what happens to displaced females and males in the three-year period after job loss. This paper has three main outcomes.

First, our results suggest that displaced part-time employed women as well as displaced short-commute women have a persistence in job flexibility outcomes, characterised by relatively few working hours and short commuting distance also after job loss. For displaced men we do not find these patterns, as they tend to work more hours and experience an increase of 18 per cent in commuting distance after job loss. Second, we show for different subpopulations of displaced women that their loss in wages is low compared to their male counterparts, suggesting women lose less in relative terms in wage premiums and human capital than men. However, we show that displaced women take longer to become re-employed than displaced men. One interpretation of these results is that displaced female workers trade off job flexibilities to longer job search without widening the gender pay gap in the three-year period after job loss.

Third, we show that female workers who are pregnant when job loss occurs experience relatively long unemployment or take up a flexible job. Conditional on re-employment, displaced expectant mothers on average reduce working hours by 15 percentage points and commutes by over 20 percentage points, relative to other displaced women. Importantly, even three years after job loss, full-time employed married women who were pregnant upon dismissal are on average over 30 percentage points less likely to be employed than comparable displaced women who were not pregnant. In contrast, displaced men have a higher re-employment rate when they are expecting a baby. We do not observe significant differences in wage losses.

Taken together, as in other countries, in the Netherlands there is no employment protection for expectant mothers against dismissal because of company closure. We show that expectant mothers remain disconnected from the labour market for a longer period after job loss relative to other groups of displaced workers. Thereby, job loss widens the gender employment gap in the short run and possibly the gender pay gap in the long run. A policy recommendation is to protect expectant mothers against these long-term consequences of dismissal because of firm bankruptcy. Policies to reduce expectant mothers’ unemployment duration may involve providing more high-quality childcare and encouraging men to share childcare responsibilities.

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Life Course Centre Working Paper No. 2020-06