Mothers And Employment
A relatively new feature of family life in Ireland is the increased participation of mothers in the active labor force outside the home. In 1987 only 32.7 percent of mothers with children under the age of fifteen years and at least one child under five were active in the paid labor force (Labour Force Survey 1987). Ten years later in 1997, this had risen to 53.1 percent (Labor Force Survey 1997). Of particular significance is that the highest percentage of mothers in full-time employment are mothers of children under age two. In contrast, the highest percentage of mothers in part-time employment is of mothers with children over age ten.
This trend poses difficulties in balancing work and family responsibilities. For example, a 1998 study (National Childcare Strategy 1999) found that 22 percent of mothers of children from infants to four-year-olds, and 68 percent of mothers of children aged five to nine years who were in full-time employment, did not use any form of paid childcare. The study assumed that the younger age group of children were cared for by their fathers and other nonpaid relatives, such as grandparents, but made no comment on who cares for the much larger group of children aged five to nine. These findings seem to support other studies that suggest that the provision of affordable quality childcare, and not attitudes towards paid employment of mothers, is the crucial factor influencing mothers to take up paid employment.
The increased participation of mothers in the paid labor force is not, however, matched by any significant increase in the amount of work undertaken by fathers in the home. The only major study on the division of household tasks of urban Irish families (Kiely 1995) found that, while more than 80 percent of mothers in the study thought that husbands should share housework equally, the reality was that mothers not only did most of the housework but also provided most of the care for the children. Fathers were generally inclined to participate in the more pleasurable aspects of childcare such as playing with the children and going on outings with them, while the mothers did most of the less glamorous tasks like changing diapers and putting the children to bed. The study did, however, show that young, educated, middle-class fathers whose wives were also employed had higher rates of participation than other fathers, although this was still relatively low.