Transformation, disruption or cumulative disadvantage? Labor market and education trajectories of young mothers in Australia

Elsevier, Advances in Life Course Research, Volume , 2021
Kalucza S., Lam J., Baxter J.

Young motherhood is often framed as detrimental to the life chances of young women with research showing negative impacts on education and labor market outcomes. At the same time, qualitative research reports narratives of motherhood as a transformative experience, providing motivation for a fresh start and moving young women away from previously unstable life pathways. These scenarios appear contradictory, however outcomes might vary for different groups of women depending on their pre-birth trajectories. We investigate the effects of early parenthood using the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. We employ a sequence based approach to compare labor market- and educational precarity of young mothers and non-parenting peers. We employ a novel sequence matching technique creating a comparison group of non-parenting young women, based on similarities in early labor market trajectories. We find that young mothers have higher levels of precarity in their pre-birth trajectories. Moreover, our results show that becoming a young mother is connected to an average increase in labor market and educational precarity post birth, which supports the hypothesis of cumulative disadvantage. However, only mothers with the least precarious trajectories prior to birth experience this development, whereas young women already on highly precarious paths see a decrease in precarity over time. Although our results do not support cumulative disadvantage for the most disadvantaged women, neither does it support the idea of parenthood as a transformative event. Our results point to the importance of understanding heterogeneity in the outcomes of young mothers.