The occupational trajectories of mothers remain far more discontinuous than those of fathers. In France, the workforce participation of mothers, including mothers of young children, is high and continuously rising. However, that rise needs to be put into perspective. It mainly represents an increase in part-time work in the 1990s. Moreover, the extension of the allocation parentale d’éducation (a monthly benefit for parents who stop working to take care of young children) to mothers of two children in 1994 caused a decline in female workforce participation, highlighting difficulties balancing work and family. This article looks at the birth of children as the trigger for occupational transitions, and describes the trend and conditions of women’s return to work after the birth of a child. Using data from the Families and Employers survey (INED 2004-2005) and the model’s estimate of the impact of length of career break on propensity to return to work by number of children, it shows that career breaks to take care of children become more frequent and longer after the birth of each sub-sequent child, depending on a woman’s attachment to work and employability. A woman’s educational level and occupational status before the birth are determinant factors in the length of the career break and their role increases with birth order. The farther a woman is from the norm of a standard full-time job before the birth, the more likely she is to experience a long period of economic inactivity, followed by a precarious or choppy occupational trajectory after the birth. A woman’s occupational trajectory after the birth of a first child is mainly conditioned by her cultural and social background. Returning to employment on a part-time basis increases substantially with the number of children and depends strongly on the conditions of the last-held job. Part-time employment is more frequent among public-sector employees. This article shows that women’s occupational pathways depend more on achieving a work/family balance than on the opportunity cost of career breaks. That finding argues for public policies to facilitate the work/life balance rather than for measures that exclude women from the workforce, especially as career breaks ultimately have a negative impact on women’s pensions.
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