We have heard plenty of commentary in recent months on the gender pay gap, with many employers citing an imbalance of men and women in more senior roles as the root cause of the gap. There has been less analysis of the reasons behind that imbalance, although a general assumption that children are somehow involved is common. What isn’t clear is whether women are choosing to progress their careers more slowly because they want to spend more time with their children, or whether they are simply forced out of the workplace because childcare is too expensive or because part-time work is not an option.

The EU’s statistics agency, Eurostat has released figures showing that London has the highest gender employment gap for the 35-44 age bracket of all EU regions except for Malta and some Greek and Italian islands. 73% of women in London in this age-bracket work (full-time or part-time) compared to 92% of men.

Given that London also has the highest child-care costs in England, which itself has the highest out-of-pocket childcare costs as a proportion of disposable income in the EU, it’s not surprising that many mothers of young children can’t make the numbers add up and quit work because their salaries don’t cover their nursery fees. 

The good news is that from age 45, the gender employment gap in London reverses faster than in other leading economies, most probably because of a more flexible job market, suggesting many employers see the advantages of welcoming back mothers after career breaks who may want to work part-time or flexibly. There is definitely more to be done though to ensure that women who want to stay in work after having children can do so. 

Keeping those who want to work in employment would help increase London’s vibrancy and it’s worth employers, Government and childcare providers thinking harder about how to make that happen. To date there has been much emphasis on the free 30 hours offered to working parents of three and four year olds but many women simply can’t afford the two years’ worth of nursery fees to get to that point. And there are concerns that the free hours are leading to higher costs for the unfunded hours as childcare providers struggle to stay afloat on the meagre Government funded hourly rate, which in most cases(especially in London) does not reflect the true cost of providing the care. If we are serious about keeping London as a vibrant capital, this must be on our agenda too.