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What affects a woman's participation in the labour market?

Age of mother

As expected, the labour force participation and employment rates of mothers increase as age increases. In the 45-49-year age group, the rates for mothers are almost the same as for those women with no dependants. Employment rates for sole mothers are still a little lower than for other women even at this top age range.

Figure 3

Graph, Employment rate of women, by parent status and age group, year ended June 2014.  

Figure 4

Graph, Unemployment rate of women, by parent status and age group, year ended June 2014.

It is clear in figure 4 that unemployment rates are much higher for sole mothers, while partnered mothers have almost identical unemployment rates as women with no dependants, in all but the youngest age group. The unemployment rate does decrease as the age of sole mothers increases, but a significant gap remains between the unemployment rate of sole mothers and other women across the age groups. Unemployment rates are highest for mothers aged 25–29. One-fifth of all sole mothers are aged between 25 and 29, compared with one-tenth of partnered mothers.

Age of youngest dependent child

In general, as a mother's age increases, the age of her youngest dependent child also increases. Now we will look at the labour market outcomes for mothers based on the age of their youngest dependent child, and then look at how mother's age and youngest child's age interact to help identify whether the mother's age has an effect over and above the effect of the child's age.

Figure 5

Graph, Employment rate of mothers, by age group of youngest dependent child.

Figure 6

Graph, Unemployment rate of mothers, by age group of youngest dependent child.

Figures 5 and 6 show that regardless of the age of the youngest child, sole mothers have lower employment rates and higher unemployment rates than partnered mothers. However, both employment and unemployment rates notably improve for both groups as the age of the youngest dependent child increases.

The difference in unemployment rate for partnered mothers with their youngest child aged under 10, and those with their youngest child aged 10 and over, is marginal when compared with sole mothers.

Over the last 20 years, the largest gain in employment rate for all mothers has been in the group where the youngest child is aged 3–4 years (up 17.1 percentage points). Sole mothers have seen large increases in employment across all of the child age groups, but most significantly when their youngest child is aged 3–13 years. However, even with these gains, the June 2014 year employment rates of sole mothers were still lower than even the June 1994 year rates of partnered mothers at each child age group.

Figure 7

Graph, Change in employment rate of mothers between 1994 and 2014, by age group of youngest dependent child, year ended June.

Age of mother by age of youngest dependent child

Figure 8 suggests that at the younger end of the mother's age scale, mother's age has an impact over and above the impact of the age of the youngest child. The employment rate of mothers aged 25–29, whose youngest child was aged two or under, was approximately 15 percentage points lower than women in the next three age groups.

Figure 8

Graph, Employment rate of mothers, by age groups of mother and youngest dependent child, year ended June 2014.


The following data uses the 'total response' method of classifying ethnicity, which counts each person in each ethnic group they identify with.

Figure 9

Graph, Proportions of women, by ethnic group and parent status.

A larger proportion of Pacific and Māori women were mothers when compared with European and Asian women. Nearly three-quarters of Pacific women, and about 7 out of 10 Māori women, aged 25–49 were mothers of dependent children in the June 2014 year. Figure 9 shows sole parenthood was also more prevalent for these two ethnic groups, with over one-quarter of Māori women and one-fifth of Pacific women in this age group identified as being a sole parent. While women who identified as Māori made up approximately 14 percent of the total population of women aged 25–49, just under one-third of all sole mothers were Māori.

Figure 10

Graph, Proportions of mothers, by labour force status and ethnic group, year ended June 2014.

Figure 10 shows the proportions of mothers in each ethnic group by their status in the labour market. What this shows is that a lower proportion of Māori and Pacific mothers are employed and a higher proportion are unemployed than Asian and European mothers. Figure 10 also shows a smaller proportion of European mothers are not in the labour force, when compared with other mothers.

Just under one-fifth of all Pacific sole mothers in the June 2014 year were unemployed, resulting in an unemployment rate of 30.2 percent for this group. The unemployment rate was 25.5 percent for Māori sole mothers, and a much lower 12.5 percent for European sole mothers. For European, Māori and Pacific mothers, the unemployment rate of partnered mothers was notably lower than for sole mothers, and was fairly similar to the rate of those women with no dependent children.

Number of dependent children

Figure 11

Graph, Employment, labour force participation, and unemployment rates of mothers, by number of dependent children, year ended June 2014.

There is little difference in employment and participation rates for those mothers with one dependent child, compared with those with two dependent children. For both sole and partnered mothers, employment and labour force participation rates decrease when they have three or more dependent children. Unemployment rates are also higher for those mothers with three or more dependent children, although this difference is more pronounced for sole mothers than partnered mothers.

Highest qualification

The level of highest qualification attained makes a difference to women's employment rate, regardless of parental and partnership status. While there are differences in the levels or rates of employment between groups of women, the general pattern of higher rates of employment with bachelor's degrees or higher qualifications, and much lower rates with no qualifications, is the same.

Table 2
Employment rate by highest qualification

Year ended June 2014


Highest qualification

Bachelor's degree or higher

Post-school certificate / diploma, level 4–7

Post-school certificate / diploma, level 1–3

Secondary school qualification

No qualification

Employment rate (percent)

Sole mothers






Partnered mothers






Women with no dependent children












The difference in employment rate for those with a bachelor's degree or higher and those with no qualifications was 31.2 percentage points for sole mothers, 19.0 percentage points for partnered mothers, and 21.5 percentage points for women with no dependent children.

While employment outcomes for women with a bachelor's degree or higher were good across the board, the proportion of mothers in this category is lower than for those women with no dependent children. Figure 12 shows the proportion of sole mothers with this qualification level is particularly low, while the proportion with no qualification is notably higher than the other groups of women.

Figure 12

Graph, Highest qualification of women, by parent status | Graph, Highest qualification of women, by parent status

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