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The Drivers of Mothers Parental Leave Decisions

This study, undertaken by Motu researchers Shakked Noy and Isabelle Sin, looked at the leave intentions, leave preferences, and actual leave mothers in the Growing Up in NZ (GUiNZ) study took after the birth of their child. The survey sample was 2,588 mothers who had a child in 2009/10, who were working before having the child, and who lived in the Auckland, Waikato, or Counties-Manukau regions.

It should be noted that at the time this GUiNZ survey data was collected, Paid Parental Leave (PPL) was 14 weeks. In 2021 PPL in New Zealand is for up to 26 weeks.


  • Mothers preferred an average of 69 weeks of leave, anticipated taking 36 weeks, and actually took 53 weeks. Mothers had a moderate ability to take their desired amount of leave for up to a year, but little ability to take any leave they desired over a year.
  • Many women who ended up out of work for several years after having their child did not plan their trajectory. Rather, their work opportunities eroded over time, often exacerbated by a lack of suitable, affordable childcare and/or a lack of access to flexible work arrangements.
  • Money was the biggest driver of mothers' return to work. Low income mothers were more constrained in the leave they could take and more likely to have to return to work earlier than planned.
  • Self-employed women preferred, and took, much less parental leave than employee mothers.

The researchers suggest the study results reinforce the need for flexible working conditions that enable parents to remain employed if they want to be. They argue that employers can assist working mothers by allowing flexible or part time working arrangements, providing childcare, and generally supporting parents to successfully combine work and parenting.

The researchers argue the PPL entitlement can be insufficient for low income earners, however it should be acknowledged however that PPL entitlements have almost doubled in New Zealand since the survey data used in this study was collected, and other initiatives have been instigated, such as the Best Start Tax Credit.

For enquiries about this research please email

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