The Impact of Family Formation on the Willingness to Commute and the Consequences for Employment Behaviour of Mothers in Germany

Thomas Skora, Federal Institute for Population Research Germany (BiB)

Previous studies suggest that women’s careers are negatively affected by child-related employment interruptions and subsequent mobility into mother-friendly working conditions. Hence, determinants of female employment patterns following child birth have been subject to a variety of studies. Yet, empirical insights regarding the relevance of commuting distance for the decision of mothers to return to work after childbirth are lacking. This paper examines i) the commuting distances and related adjustments of women and men around the transition to parenthood and ii) the impact of maternal pre-birth commuting distances on the duration of employment interruption as well as on the propensity to change the employer at re-entry. It is assumed that mothers with long commutes, in order to reduce their commuting distance, might be reluctant to return to their previous employer while the need to find a new appropriate job close to the place of residence might delay the re-entry into the labour market. These adjustments could be associated with occupational downward mobility, as changing the employer implies a loss of firm-specific human capital and a spatial restriction of job search activities to the local labour market. The empirical analysis uses data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) for the years 1997 to 2015. Results from fixed effects regressions show that women living in West Germany decrease their commuting distance substantially when entering parenthood, while this doesn’t apply for women in East Germany and for men in both regions. The reduction of commuting distance largely takes place after the child was born in the phase of mothers’ return to work. Results from subsequent survival analyses indicate that the duration of employment interruption is not affected by the pre-birth commuting behaviour. However, long commutes before the birth increase the risk of changing the employer when re-entering the labour market in West Germany.

Background/research question

Previous studies suggest that women’s careers are negatively affected by child-related employment interruptions and subsequent mobility into mother-friendly working conditions. Hence, determinants of female employment patterns following child birth have been subject to a variety of studies. Yet, empirical insights regarding the relevance of commuting distance for the decision of mothers to return to work after childbirth are lacking. Given the assumption that long commutes to work impede the reconciliation of family and work, especially for mothers, this paper i) examines the commuting distances and related adjustments of women and men around the transition to parenthood and ii) investigates the impact of maternal pre-birth commuting distances on the duration of employment interruption as well as on the propensity to change the employer at re-entry. It is assumed that mothers with long commutes, in order to reduce their commuting distance, might be reluctant to return to their previous employer while the need to find a new appropriate job close to the place of residence might delay the re-entry into the labour market.

Data and methodology

The empirical analysis uses data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) for the years 1997 to 2015. The paper analyses the effect of the transition to first time parenthood on commuting distances of women and men by means of fixed-effects panel regressions (N=8,177 individuals; 2,182 transitions to first time parenthood). To assess the impact of maternal pre-birth commuting distances on the duration of employment interruption of mothers, methods of survival analyses (Cox regression models) are applied (N=750 women). In addition, the return to the previous employer and the return to a new employer are modelled as competing risks (Fine and Gray competing risk regression models). The analyses are done separately for East and West Germany to account for regional differences. As both regions differ with respect to the acceptance of maternal (full-time) employment in the presence of young children and the availability of public child care services, difficulties for reconciling parenthood and long commutes can be expected to be more pronounced in West Germany.

Results

Results from fixed effects regressions show that women living in West Germany decrease their commuting distance substantially when entering parenthood, while no significant adjustments can be found for East German women and for men of both regions. The reduction of commuting distance largely takes place after the child was born in the phase of mothers’ return to work. Results from subsequent survival analyses indicate that the duration of employment interruption is not affected by the pre-birth commuting distance of women. However, long commutes before the birth increase the risk of changing the employer when re-entering the labour market in West Germany.

Conclusions/outlook

The causes of the gender gap in commuting as well as employment-related disadvantages due to a limited willingness to accept longer commutes have repeatedly been a subject of mobility research. In accordance with the assumption that parental obligations lower the willingness to accept longer commutes of women more than the willingness of men, this study provides new evidence for Germany that the transition to parenthood is linked to a reduction of commuting distances of women living in West Germany. However, the differences between West and East indicate that the regional context in terms of structural conditions and social norms can moderate the perceived reconciliation of family and commuting. Moreover, this study indicates that mothers in West Germany with long pre-birth commuting distances have an increased risk of changing their job when re-entering the labour market. This behaviour could be associated with an increased risk of experiencing occupational downward mobility, as changing the employer in order to reduce commuting distance implies a loss of firm-specific human capital and a spatial restriction of job search activities to the local labour market. Furthermore, the relevance of alternative strategies to reduce commuting costs (i.e. moving near the workplace, reduction of commuting days) will be discussed.

Presented in Session 1146: Economics, Human Capital, and Labour Markets