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The Costs of Childbearing

The Costs of Childbearing

Maternity leave policies in the higher education sector

Professor Vera Troeger’s research explored the pay and leave options available to female staff in a number of UK universities to understand how maternity impacts women’s careers. Research intensity, student-staff ratios, staff numbers, and peer-group effects are all important factors in the levels of support and the maternity options available to female staff members.

The challenge

Most UK universities provide Occupational Maternity Pay (OMP), which tops up Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) in the first thirty-nine weeks of maternity leave. Yet, while some offer 26 extra weeks on full pay, some only offer eight weeks. Universities offering less paid leave see more qualified women leave work after having children, disrupting or ending their careers. In order to improve maternity provision and make it more equitable across the sector, Professor Troeger assessed the effects of these policies and analysed the difference in provision between institutions.

Our approach

Professor Troeger and her team made a number of key discoveries when comparing UK universities, primarily that:

  • Budgets alone do not seem to explain why maternity policies are so varied

  • In-house childcare increases the share of female professors by up to a third

  • Better maternity provision leads to a higher share of female academics on the highest salaries, especially at research-intensive universities

  • The positive effects of generous maternity support on productivity and career progression can be tracked at an individual level

The team’s findings suggested that the level of parental leave allocated is the result of an implicit bargaining process that varies according to the characteristics of higher education institutions.

Our impact

Professor Troeger and her colleagues have challenged the UK higher education sector’s inconsistent maternity provision. The research has shown the benefits of stronger policies to support new mothers, both in academia and in other fields. Better pay and leave could keep well-qualified women in work, promote their career progression and help close the salary gap. In the long run, increased provision could pay for itself. These findings are now having direct positive impacts on expectant academic parents.

The University of Warwick changed its maternity and adoption pay in January 2020 in light of the research. Warwick has significantly extended the duration and amount of maternity pay women receive. The research has also led to the University of Exeter expanding its maternity benefits, taking it from the least generous to the most generous Russell Group university. With approximately 5,000 staff employed at Exeter and 7,000 at Warwick, the improved policies have wide-reaching impact and benefit - not only for academics, but for professional services staff too.

Professor Troeger has presented to the Cabinet Office, and given public lectures at higher education institutions across the UK and Europe. The research has been discussed widely in the media, including on BBC Radio 4 and in the Guardian and Times Higher Education Supplement.


Read more about Professor Troeger's research into pay, leave and female academics

Hear Professor Troeger speak on BBC Women's Hour about better maternity provision

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