How are the career and income of parents of children with disabilities affected?
Being a parent of a child with disabilities can impact family life in several ways, both short and long term. In 2022, a group of researchers examined how income and employment were affected for this group. The findings revealed that mothers were significantly more affected negatively in terms of their career and income compared to fathers. Moreover, the severity of the child's condition correlated with a higher likelihood of mothers working fewer hours and earning less.
This article was published in Norwegian on the 5th September 2023.
The article Impact of child disability on parental employment and labour income: a quasi-experimental study of parents of children with disabilities in Norway was published in the BMJ Public Health. The article was prepared in collaboration between Oslo Met and NIPH.
About the study and the data
The extensive "Difference in differences" study looked at data from over 273,000 parents of children born between 2004 and 2011. These included information on the parents' employment status and income from four years before birth to 10 years after birth, both for parents of children with and without reduced functional ability. This information was extracted from Statistics Norway's (SSB) registry data.
The study was based on six hypotheses that examined whether parents of children with disabilities had a lower chance of being in work, a lower chance of being in a full-time position, had a lower income, whether mothers were more severely affected by negative consequences than fathers, whether the effects were clearer to parents of children with more serious functional impairments, and whether the negative consequences were more prominent for parents of children under school age.
Mothers of children with functional impairments had a significantly reduced employment status compared to mothers of children without functional impairments. The differences increased proportionally with how seriously affected the children were. Of the four degrees of functional impairment, degree four was the most serious. For mothers of this group, the difference was 12 percentage points the year after birth and 10 percentage points ten years after birth. For mothers of children with level 1 functional impairment, the corresponding figure was 4 percentage points ten years after birth. This difference persists when the children reach school age.
For fathers, there were no differences in work participation between fathers of children with disabilities and fathers of children without such disabilities.
When the researchers investigated how many hours mothers of children with severe functional impairments worked compared to mothers of able-bodied children, they found differences in how much the two groups worked. Mothers of children with severe functional impairments tended to change from full-time to part-time positions after giving birth. The difference was more pronounced according to the severity of the child's condition. Surprisingly for the researchers, these differences increased when the children reached school age.
In general, the same degree of reduced working capacity was not observed for fathers of children with severe functional impairments as for the mothers.
Mothers of children with severe functional impairments had significantly lower income than mothers of able-bodied children. This difference increased proportionally with the degree of functional impairment. Eight years after birth, a difference of 13.7 per cent could be seen for mothers of children with severe functional impairments and mothers of healthy children. The difference was not as great for mothers of children with less extensive functional impairments. The difference in income increased with the child's age.
The researchers did not find as clear an effect among the fathers of children with severe functional impairments as among the mothers of this group. The children's disabilities did not seem to affect fathers' income to a significant degree in general, but after ten years it could be seen that fathers of children with severe disabilities were 8.8 per cent lower than fathers of able-bodied children.
Mothers were more negatively affected in working life and income than fathers. This suggests that fathers continued to work full-time to a greater extent. This concurs with previous findings in the area. What surprised the researchers was that the differences in work participation and income persisted even after the children reached school age. One explanation for this could be that all children under school age, including able-bodied ones, need more care than school children. The differences between parents of children with and without disabilities before they reach school age are therefore not as great.
The findings in this study suggest that employers and welfare authorities should evaluate urgent welfare schemes. They should especially look at arrangements for mothers of children with severe disabilities.