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Career-Breaks and Maternal Employment in CEE Countries

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Mothers in the Labor Market


Post-birth career breaks and their impact on mothers’ labor market outcomes have received considerable attention in the literature. However, existing evidence comes mostly from Western Europe and the US, where career breaks tend to be short. In contrast, Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, where post-birth career interruptions by mothers are typically much longer, have rarely been studied. In the first part of this study, we place CEE countries into the EU context by providing key empirical facts related to the labor market outcomes of mothers and the most important factors that may affect them. Besides substantial differences between CEE countries and the rest of the EU, there is also large heterogeneity within CEE itself, which we explore next. In the second part, we review the main family leave and formal childcare policies and reforms that have occurred in CEE countries since the end of Communism and provide a comprehensive survey of the existing scientific evidence of their impact on maternal employment. While research on the causal impacts of these policies is scarce, several important studies have recently been published in high-impact journals. We are the first to provide an overview of these causal studies from CEE countries, which offer an insightful extension to the existing knowledge from Western Europe and the US.

We thank the Czech Science Foundation, grant number 18-16667S, for financial support. We are grateful to the anonymous referee and Daniel Münich for their comments and suggestions. Anna Donina and Maksim Smirnov provided excellent research assistance. This text was previously circulated in a working paper format as Bičáková & Kalíšková (2021)

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  1. 1.

    The EU definition of the employment impact of parenthood is slightly different, as it compares individuals with and without children below 6 (see EU social indicators’ definitions: Including women with children older than 6 in the comparison group (following the Eurostat definition) could underestimate the employment impact of motherhood, as child-birth related career breaks of several years in some of the CEE countries are likely to have a long-term impact on maternal employment even beyond a child’s sixth birthday. Nevertheless, the employment impacts of motherhood are quite similar when comparing our and the Eurostat definition.

  2. 2.

    Moreover, the distinction between unemployment and inactivity is not always clear and often sensitive to the applied definitions (see e.g. Benati, 2001; Gonul, 1992; Jones & Riddell, 2006).

  3. 3.

    In most countries, the length of paid family leave is a combination of the length of maternity leave and the length of paid parental leave available to mothers.

  4. 4.

    In accordance with the formal EU naming convention, we sometimes refer to the Czech Republic as Czechia. The two names are officially interchangeable.

  5. 5.

    Note that there were also substantial differences among CEE countries in terms of ownership structure: In countries like Czechoslovakia and East Germany, almost all enterprises were state-owned, whereas in Poland and Hungary, the privatization process started as early as the 1980s, with a non-negligible share of the private sector comprised of small businesses and entrepreneurs (EBRD, 1995).

  6. 6.

    There was a large expansion of nurseries and kindergartens in the 1970s and 1980s in CEE countries, which resulted in high levels of attendance of pre-school children before 1990. This contrasted with most OECD countries where these levels were still relatively low. In 1989, four in five pre-school children were enrolled in kindergartens in Central Europe. The quality of public childcare, however, varied substantially (UNICEF, 1999). Priority was given to families in which both parents worked so as to encourage female employment (Kocourková, 2002).

  7. 7.

    Source: UNECE, We often use EU15 as a comparison group to CEE countries, because EU15 offers a clearly defined group of EU countries without the Communist past.

  8. 8.

    Source: UNECE,

  9. 9.

    Starting one’s own business, travelling or studying abroad in non-Communist countries would be among the most popular activities that were not possible during Communism.

  10. 10.

    In many CEE countries, this process of re-familization of family policies, which included extending paid parental leaves and cuts in nursery school places, started in the 1980s and intensified during the transition period (see Sect. 8.5.1 and Table 8.7 for an overview of changes in the duration of paid parental leave in CEE countries).

  11. 11.

    Evidence of the impact of family leave policies on fertility in CEE countries is mixed. While Hiriscau (2020) shows that extending maternity leave increases fertility in Romania, Šťastná et al. (2020) argue that longer leaves lead to a longer interval between the first and second child, and lower probability of having two children within 10 years of the first birth in Czechia.

  12. 12.

    Source: OECD (

  13. 13.

    The long career breaks of highly educated women also represent a non-negligible cost to the economy by, e.g., lowering returns to women’s human capital investments.

  14. 14.

    Unfortunately, data on the length of paid family leaves available to mothers and fathers are not available for all CEE countries. The discussion here is thus limited only to the countries with non-missing information. However, in Sect. 8.4.2, we compare family leave policies in all CEE EU member states. As we focus on maternal employment in 2019 (the most recent data available), we report the family leave policies as of 2016. The 3-year long family leaves would have still been ongoing or just completed, which is more relevant for the maternal employment in 2019 than any of the more recent policy changes (which we discuss later in Sect. 8.5.1).

  15. 15.

    We attribute the high female participation rates to the still-prevailing norm of the working woman inherited from Communism and the fact that the majority of mothers return to the labor market even after taking long leaves.

  16. 16.

    For EU15 countries, the coefficient from a simple regression of fertility on maternal employment is 19.37 with a p-value = 0.104. For CEE countries, the corresponding coefficient is −1.81 with p-value = 0.959.

  17. 17.

    Employment impact of motherhood is calculated as the difference between the employment rate of childless women and women with at least one child below 6 years of age (in percentage points), see Sect. 8.2.

  18. 18.

    The coefficient from a simple regression of the employment impact of motherhood on the duration of paid family leave is 0.2286 with p-value = 0.000.

  19. 19.

    We report family leave policies as of 2016, given data constraints (regarding job protection) as well as relevance. As we focus on maternal employment (of women with children 0–6) in 2019 (the available most recent values), we consider the 2016 family leave policies the most relevant because the impact of paid family leaves of several years and long job protection duration are still likely to be reflected in the observed cross-country differences in the 2019 maternal employment.

  20. 20.

    For example, the Czech parental leave system allows parents to choose from various lengths of benefit collection and the corresponding size of the monthly benefit. In 2016, Czech women were all eligible for the same total amount of parental leave allowance. They could, however, choose the period over which it will be paid. In particular, they could choose between 2 and 4 year-long duration of parental allowance receipt, with the corresponding level of monthly allowance between CZK 11,500 (for the 2-year track) and 4400 (for the 4-year track). Note, however, that only women with earnings above 77% of the median female wage were eligible for the 2-year track and women who did not work prior to childbirth were only eligible for the longest track of 4 years.

  21. 21.

    The data only distinguish between the use of childcare of less or more than 30 h per week. As we want to filter out any occasional childcare of several hours per week that mothers may report but that would not enable them to work even part-time, we look at childcare usage greater than 30 h per week. Admittedly, the use of less than 30 h of childcare per week may still allow mothers to hold a part time job, which is why we also show the overall use of childcare of any duration in Table A.1 in the Appendix. We consider the cross-country differences in the use of less than 30 h of childcare per week (i.e. the differences between the values in Table A.1 and Table 8.5) when we discuss the variation in the prevalence of part-time jobs in Sect. 8.4.4.

  22. 22.

    As discussed in Sect. 8.4.4, the use of part-time employment in Romania by mothers of young children is, however, limited, suggesting that the part-time use of formal childcare seems not to be driven by the demand of mothers with only partial employment.

  23. 23.

    Admittedly, the amount of public expenditures on childcare may reflect (not only childcare availability and affordability) but also quality. Unfortunately, there is no measurable and comparable information about childcare quality either, so we have to abstract from the quality differences.

  24. 24.

    We have also considered other flexible forms of work, such as work-from-home and self-employment. As these factors proved to have only very limited explanatory power for the observed differences in maternal employment, we do not cover them here but refer the reader to Bičáková and Kalíšková (2021), the working paper version of this chapter, where we also discuss the cross-country variation in the use of work from home and self-employment among women in CEE countries.

  25. 25.

    Use of childcare for less than 30 h is the difference between the total use reported in Table A.1 and the use for over 30 h reported in Table 8.5.

  26. 26.

    The comparison of findings from CEE countries with evidence from Western Europe, US, or Canada is complicated by the fact that the length of post-birth career breaks tends to be much longer in CEE countries (see Sect. 8.3.2).

  27. 27.

    The factors that induced these policy changes and their motivation were discussed in Sect. 8.3.2.

  28. 28.

    Similar to the reform in Czechia, the reforms in Austria and Germany also involved extensions of paid leave beyond the period of job protection but extended the paid leaves only to 1.5 and 2.5 years in Schönberg and Ludsteck (2014) and Lalive et al. (2014), respectively.

  29. 29.

    Interestingly, after this substantial reduction in paid leave in 2004, the leave was extended again to 1.5 years in 2008.

  30. 30.

    In Romania, the flexible program was abolished five years later in 2016. Czechia and Lithuania kept these programs.

  31. 31.

    Nevertheless, there is some evidence from Denmark that women change occupations after childbirth, often reallocating from the private sector to the family-friendly public sector (Pertold-Gebicka et al. 2016).

  32. 32.

    Some countries even sought to introduce cuts to benefits during the 1990s. Hungary introduced means-testing for the previously universal parental leave benefit (GYES) and phased out the insurance-based GYED in 1995. However, these changes were reversed three years later in 1998.

  33. 33.

    Hungary first abolished the restriction on paid work for parents collecting parental leave benefits in 2005, but this was reversed in 2010 when a working hours limit of 30 h per week was introduced. Since 2014, there has been no further restriction on working hours for parents of children after their first birthday.

  34. 34.

    While Saxonberg (2013) focuses specifically on the impact of parental leave and childcare policies on gender role division in the families (genderization and degenderization), their approach fits the classification that we are interested in as well, as policies that promote more equal participation of both parents in care-giving promotes mothers’ employment, whereas policies that are based on explicit or implicit assumption that mothers are the primary care-givers have detrimental impact on mothers’ employment.

  35. 35.

    Saxonberg (2013) has only 4 CEE countries (Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland) in their sample. Apart from CEE countries, they cover 14 Western European countries, Australia, and the US. Based on our own data on parental leave policies (length, generosity, fathers’ incentives) and childcare (public spending on early childhood education and care, use of formal childcare) – see Tables 8.3, 8.4, and 8.5 above and the sources below Table 8.11 – we classify CEE countries into the categories described above. Note that we also update Saxonberg’s classification for Poland, as the parental leave system has changed there since 2013 and we consider the policies as of 2016.

  36. 36.

    Examples of such countries in Saxonberg (2013) are the UK and the US.

  37. 37.

    With a 78% prime-age female employment rate and 61% maternal employment rate.

  38. 38.

    There is also some evidence that the low official female employment rates may mask the fact that some women work in the informal sector (Cousins, 2000).

  39. 39.

    In contrast with Lalive et al. (2014), the only other study that explores the impact offamily leaves on maternal unemployment, who conclude that longer leaves in Austria lead to less unemployment in the first 3 years of the child.

  40. 40.

    Namely, Akgündüz et al. (2020); Bičáková and Kalíšková (2019); Lovász and Szabó-Morvai (2019); Mullerová (2017); Pertold-Gebicka (2020).

  41. 41.

    For example: Coding for the question “the most important role of a woman is to take care of her home and family” is: 1 = totally agree, 2 = tend to agree, 3 = it depends, 4 = tend to disagree, 5 = totally disagree. While coding for the question “Do you approve or disapprove of a man taking parental leave to take care of his children?” is: 1 = strongly disapprove, 2 = tend to disapprove, 3 = neither approve nor disapprove, 4 = tend to approve, 5 = strongly approve.

  42. 42.

    An average index of 3 implies a country with a balance of conservative and liberal answers, while an average index of 3.5 a country that is more liberal.


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Fig. A.1
figure 9

Employment rate of women with children below 6, 2019

Source: Eurostat/LFST_HHEREDCH – (

Note: Prime-aged women are women from 25 to 54 years old

Fig. A.2
figure 10

Employment and labor force participation rates of prime-age women, 2019

Source: Eurostat/LFST_HHEREDCH, LFSA_ARGAN – (;

Note: Prime-aged women are women from 25 to 54 years old

Fig. A.3
figure 11

Employment and unemployment rates of prime-age women, 2019

Source: Eurostat/LFST_HHEREDCH, LFSA_URGAN – (;

Note: Prime-aged women are women from 25 to 54 years old

Fig. A.4
figure 12

Evolution of labor force participation of women (older than 15) during the 1990–2019 period

Source: World Bank/SL.TLF.CACT.FE.ZS (, own calculations of the EU15 mean

Fig. A.5
figure 13

Evolution of the fertility rate during the 1989–2019 period

Source: Eurostat/DEMO_FRATE (

Fig. A.6
figure 14

Evolution of employment rate of prime-age mothers with young children during the 2005–2019 period

Source: Eurostat/LFST_HHEREDCH – (

Note: Prime-aged women are women from 25 to 54 years old. Young children are children of age less than 6 years

Table A.1 Use of any formal and informal childcare in 2019

8.1.1 Construction of the Gender-Role Index (GRI)

The data for the construction of the gender-role index (GRI) come from Special Eurobarometer 465: Gender Equality 2017, available at

Questions used in the Gender-role Index are:

  1. 1.

    Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: the most important role of a man is to earn money.

  2. 2.

    Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: the most important role of a woman is to take care of her home and family.

  3. 3.

    Do you approve or disapprove of a man taking parental leave to take care of his children?

  4. 4.

    Do you approve or disapprove of a man doing an equal share of household activities?

The responses to the questions 1 and 2 were:

  • Totally agree

  • Tend to agree

  • Tend to disagree

  • Totally disagree

The responses to the questions 3 and 4 were:

  • Strongly approve

  • Tend to approve

  • Neither approve nor disapprove

  • Tend to disapprove

  • Strongly disapprove

The answers coded as DK (do not know) where dropped. The other responses were coded by an integer number from 1 to 5 such that the most conservative answer is 1, while the most liberal answer is 5.Footnote 41 Then for each country and for each of questions 1, 2, 3, and 4, we sum the coded responses and divide over the total number of responses (excluding DK). We thus obtain the average of the coded responses for each country and for each of questions 1, 2, 3, and 4. Finally, we calculate unweighted averages of these average coded responses for each country.Footnote 42

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Bičáková, A., Kalíšková, K. (2022). Career-Breaks and Maternal Employment in CEE Countries. In: Molina, J.A. (eds) Mothers in the Labor Market. Springer, Cham.

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  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-99779-3

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-99780-9

  • eBook Packages: Social SciencesSocial Sciences (R0)

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