Women return to work sooner after giving birth; more work part-time.

Wednesday, December 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Expectant mother Chris Kelley would rather be a full-time mom after giving birth to her first child, but family finances may force her to return to work sooner than she wants.

So Kelley, of Guilderland, N.Y., says she might try something that a Census Bureau report Wednesday suggests may be becoming more prevalent among new mothers: easing back into the work force with a job she can do from home or part-time.

``Our goal is to have me stay home. My husband and I just don't know if we can afford it,'' said Kelley, a public relations specialist. Three months before the due date, Kelley said she is worried most about rising child-care costs.

``It's unfortunate that it comes down to a money issue,'' she said.

More women are working later into pregnancy and returning sooner to work after giving birth than they did years ago, the census report said. Changes took place as more women gained college degrees and professional management positions.

It also showed that rates of pregnant workers and recent mothers in the workplace reached a plateau in the early 1990s and even made a slight dip by 1995. The biggest increases came in the 1970s and early 1980s, especially after the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Law was passed.

Today, trends suggest that ``a shift to more part-time work is beginning to occur, both before and after childbirth,'' the report said, adding that this could indicate a growing flexibility in the work force as well as the desire of new parents to balance work and family life.

The survey looked at maternity leave and employment patterns of women who gave birth to their first child. It compared data over five-year intervals between 1961 and 1995.

Some highlights:

_Between 1991 and 1995, 67 percent of women who gave birth to their first child worked during their pregnancy. That was unchanged from the period between 1986 and 1990, but up from 44 percent between 1961 and 1965.

_The percentage of mothers working full-time rose from 40 percent in the early 1960s to 54 percent in the early 1990s, while the percentage of those who worked part-time increased from 5 percent to 12 percent.

_In the early 1990s, 52 percent of women who gave birth returned to work after six months, down from 53 percent in the late 1980s but up from 14 percent in the early 1960s.

More women are taking paid maternity leave as a growing number of employers have offered the benefit.

In the early 1960s, 63 percent of women quit around the time of giving birth, while 16 percent took paid leave. By the early 1990s, 27 percent quit while 43 percent took leave.

``How much workplaces have changed to accommodate families is an ongoing question,'' said University of Maryland sociologist Suzanne Bianchi. If the country should enter an extended recession ``more workplaces would not have to be as accommodating'' as they have in the past, she suggested.