Published May 2007
UK government policy encourages mothers of young children in low-income families to enter or return to work, via tax credit subsidies and support for childcare. Maternal employment is seen a central plank in the campaign against child poverty, both because it raises income immediately and because working now is seen as paving the way to better employment prospects in the future. But there is little evidence about medium- and long-term outcomes for mothers entering low skilled employment. We know little about how likely such women are to remain in work, let alone how likely they are to progress to higher skilled and better paid jobs. This paper uses a dataset which tracked lone mothers from 1991 to 2001 to examine employment trajectories for 560 mothers with a youngest child under five at the start of the period. It creates a typology of trajectories over the decade, identifying the share of women broadly stable in work, those broadly stable at home and those following unstable pathways between the two. It goes on to explore the factors associated with different pathways, asking whether individual and household characteristics, job characteristics, or circumstantial factors such as re-partnering are most important. Finally, the paper examines differences in wage progression across groups of women following different pathways, and similarly tries to identify the main factors associated with faster progress.