The difference between the share of middle-aged women and men in work is greater in London than nearly any other part of the EU, official figures show.
Many women in the capital drop out of the workforce after having a child, citing relatively high childcare costs and no family members living nearby.
“It does not make financial sense for me to work,” said Lucy, a 40-year-old mother of two young children, who used to be an analyst at a US insurance corporation but is now a stay-at-home mum.
“We would end up being poorer if I went to work,” she said, citing the high cost of childcare in the capital. “I am planning to look for a job when both kids are in school.”
Lucy is not alone. According to figures from Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, 73 per cent of women between the ages of 35 and 44 are working either part-time or full-time in London, compared with 92 per cent of men — meaning London has the largest “gender employment gap” for people of childbearing age across all wealthy parts of the EU.
Factoring in poorer EU regions, with relatively low gross domestic product per capita, London still shows the largest overall employment gap, bar Malta and some Greek and Italian islands.
The Eurostat figures show that while more women under the age of 25 in London are in work than men of the same age, the trend reverses as people begin to have children.
However, the gender employment gap shrinks more rapidly after the age of 45 in London and the UK than in other leading economies, suggesting a “greater flexibility” in the job market, according to the Paris-based OECD. This means it could be easier for women to go back to work after a long period out of the labour market in Britain than in other parts of the EU.
Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics, the UK statistics agency, show that London is the region of the UK with the second-lowest employment rate among mothers, after the West Midlands, and the only region where employment rates are lower for mothers than for non-mothers.
The OECD has calculated that England has the highest childcare costs for couples of any economically advanced country, at about 40 per cent of a household’s combined disposable income, on average. And childcare costs are generally higher in London than in other parts of the country.
According to the Family and Childcare Trust, a charity, the cost of sending a child under the age of two to nursery is more than 70 per cent more expensive in London than in north-west England.
Helen, a 40-year-old graphic designer, is a London-based mother of twins. She decided to work part-time after her maternity leave, even though her childcare costs exceeded her current salary. “I wanted to keep my job, but nursery fees are higher than my salary, which makes things really difficult,” she said.
The OECD has praised the British government’s efforts to increase the availability of flexible working arrangements and reduce childcare costs for parents, such as expanding free childcare hours for three and four-year-olds.
But it stressed in a recent report that “the impact of these new measures on the actual final costs borne by parents is as yet unclear” and childcare providers have argued that a lack of government funding for the entitlement is forcing some nurseries out of business.
The availability of childcare services is another pressing issue for London. Some 58 per cent of local authorities in London have reported a shortage of childcare spaces for those under the age of two, compared with 17 per cent of councils in the north east, according to the Family and Childcare Trust.
In the capital, high childcare costs and a lack of childcare places are combined with less family support. Claire Harding, head of research at the Family and Childcare Trust, said London’s status as a global city made it “much less likely that granny lives nearby”.
Katia, 39, agreed. She became a stay-at-home mum after moving to London in 2015 from Brazil, where she worked in human resources. “Over there, we had an affordable, full-time babysitter and both my and my husband’s parents were happy to help.”
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