Working mothers in the developed world

The employment rate of mothers has increased worldwide in recent years - with some notable exceptions.

Between 1989 and 1999, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the percentage of mothers of children under 6 who work went up, sometimes dramatically, in every OECD country but Japan - where it registered a slight decline.

Japan also has one of the highest gender wage gaps among OECD countries. The difference between men's and women's earnings there stands at 39 percent (and at 41 percent South Korea). The gap is lowest in Belgium and Denmark (11 and 12 percent, respectively).

In the United States, the working-mother trend may be starting to reverse, according to the most recent census data. The percentage of mothers with infant children who were in the labor force declined from a record-high 59 percent (in 1998) to 55 percent in 2000 - the first significant downturn in the rate since the Census Bureau began publishing it in 1976.

The census also found a record-low poverty rate, 24.7 percent, among families maintained by a single woman. The number of such families that were poor declined from 3.5 million in 1999 to 3.1 million in 2000.

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