The Motherhood Penalty

A growing body of research has shown that mothers pay a significant wage penalty for having children. A recent New York Times article discusses the effect child rearing has on mothers’ pay and points out that in the United States, a study by Census Bureau researchers found that between two years before the birth of a couple’s first child and a year after, the earnings gap between opposite-sex spouses doubles. That gap continues to grow for the next five years. In addition, two studies of college-educated women in the United States found that they made almost as much as men until ages 26 to 33, when many women have children. But by age 45, they made 55 percent as much as men. 

Mothers in the United States are not alone. Even in Scandinavia, where generous social policies are offered including government subsidized child care and shorter work days, women are still paid 15 percent to 20 percent less than men. The main argument for the pay gap is that having and raising children interferes with women’s careers because women spend more time on child rearing than men do. The time spent child rearing translates into lower wages due to mothers working fewer hours, taking longer breaks from employment and moving into lower-paying, flexible jobs after having children. 

The article suggests that policies such as paid leave, subsidized child care and part-time work options are helpful to mothers but are not the answer in overcoming gender inequality. While Denmark gives new parents a year off which mothers and fathers can share most of, it is still shown that men on average take only two weeks. Evidence shows that the pay gap would diminish if men took on a larger role in parenting which ultimately, might have an impact on the perception of traditional gender roles in general. An increase in paternity leave would be an incentive and could be a step towards lessening the pay gap and motherhood penalty.