This paper addresses the issue of whether, in addition to the well-known “motherhood penalty” in employment, there is also an “education penalty” for mothers with lower levels of education. It also asks whether work–family conciliating policies play a role in determining the characteristics and the extent of these different penalties in EU countries. The authors find that the selection of women in employment by education is largely unaffected by motherhood. Only in a few countries is there an additional penalty for low-educated mothers. The most effective policy to enable both mothers in general and low-educated mothers to remain in paid work appears to be generous provision of childcare services for children under three years. Contrary to the authors' own hypothesis and the findings presented in most of the relevant literature, there is no evidence that “too long” parental leave has a negative effect on employment, whereas the data confirm that “too short” leave may be disincentivizing. Following the application of various controls, the authors conclude that policies are part of a more complex institutional and cultural framework of options and constraints that shape the labour-market participation of mothers.

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