4 Reasons The Gender Pay Gap Is Worse For Mothers

by Jenn Rose

Tuesday marked Equal Pay Day, arguably one of the most depressing holidays on the calendar. This is the day when women have finally earned as much as their male counterparts did in 2015. We've all heard that 79 cents on the dollar figure, but looking at it from a days-worked point of view might make the contrast a bit more obvious. And, of course, April 12 is only a best-case scenario; the pay gap is far worse for mothers and women of color. In fact, Lisa Maatz of the American Association of University Women told USA Today that, to be accurate, moms' Equal Pay Day is really on June 4. This is not what mothers signed up for.

So why do mothers make so much less than fathers, or childless people of either gender? Well, there are a few reasons, and they're all B.S., of course. Surprisingly little research has been done on the subject, and, as such, we're a long way from fixing the problem. And like so many other economic issues, it varies greatly depending on where these moms live. In 2015, drawing on data from the United States Census Bureau, the National Women’s Law Center created a map that illustrates the pay gap between mothers and fathers state by state, and found that, while moms in Louisiana are only making 58.2 cents for every dollar that a dad earns, that jumps up to 90 cents in Washington, D.C. (which, to be clear, is still unacceptable).

This could be explained by the types of jobs available in each area. As Slate reported, an uneducated mom in Louisiana is more likely to be waiting tables for $2.13 per hour, while an uneducated dad can still earn a decent living working on an oil rig. In D.C., more workers are employed by the federal government, whose wages are more fixed and transparent. So why are moms getting screwed over in the other 48 states? A few possibilities:

Moms Are More Likely To Have Employment Gaps

Sure, plenty of moms pop out a kid and get right back to the cubicle, factory floor, or what have you. And yes, there are some dads who leave the workforce, either permanently, or temporarily, to stay home with the kids (high five to all seven of you!). But, on average, it's moms who put their careers on hold to deal with diapers for a few years. When they try to come back to work, they're often no longer as qualified as someone who's fresh out of college and familiar with all the latest whatever, and candidates with big gaps on their resume look less attractive to hiring managers.

Moms Need Mom-Friendly Jobs

I mean, have you ever even heard of a dad-friendly job? Hop your favorite job search website and try running searches for both "mothers' hours" and "fathers' hours." Or don't; I already tried, and I can tell you that searching for "mothers' hours" leads to "opportunities" such as Avon and other direct-sales multilevel marketing schemes, and "fathers' hours" leads to... nothing. No results. Zero.

Yes, there are fathers who take time off to deal with a sick kid or a soccer game, but they're not expected to the way mothers are (thanks to gender roles and gender inequality, generally). While CBS News reported that a 2015 Payscale survey found that more fathers than mothers claimed to prioritize family over work, the fact is that when a father says he prioritizes his kids over his job, people think, "What a good daddy!" while the same attitude from a mother can get her labeled as unproductive or less committed to her job.

So more moms take part-time jobs where their role as a parent doesn't interfere with their work. Fathers, whose stereotypical parenting role is a breadwinner rather than a caregiver, are expected to bring home the bacon, and if they can knock off early once a year to attend a school play, they're seen as heroes.

Moms Are Working Two Jobs

Yes, in a perfect world, both parents in any couple split the childcare equally, and in fact, many do – feminist dads are on the rise! But, in far too many heterosexual families, moms are the default parent, meaning that their workday doesn't end when they clock out; they've got to do the shopping, cleaning, cooking, carpooling, homework... I'm getting exhausted just typing it all. While some dads might feel that their home responsibilities begin and end with a weekly game of catch in the backyard, their wives are essentially working another full-time job once they get home (plus some serious overtime).

So once she does go back to the office, mom might not have as much energy as dad, like the sleepy bunny above who was clearly up all night with a teething baby bunny. And she might have to engage in a bit of non-work-related business, like making dentist appointments or checking in with the babysitter. Yes, sometimes a mom actually might not be as productive a worker as a dad or someone without kids. Right or wrong, workers who put in less billable hours are sure to get paid less.

Good, Old-Fashioned Discrimination

A 2001 study published in the American Sociological Review found that moms pay a "penalty" of 7 percent of their wages for every child they have. While the study was able to attribute about one-third of the cases to breaks in unemployment and taking on part-time work, the remaining two-thirds are up in the air. While some of it is likely due to lost productivity from momming so damn hard all the time, some is also undoubtedly due to discrimination, although that's difficult to substantiate.

Anecdotally, we may all be able to point to a mom we've worked with who always gave her job 100 percent of her focus while on the clock, but was still regarded as a subpar worker because it was assumed that the company wasn't her top priority. But the reason we don't all sue every crappy boss we've ever had is that cases like that are hard to prove (even when the woman isn't a mother).

Additionally, 2016 analysis by Cornell University found that a woman's field of work doesn't even matter that much. As a field becomes more female-dominated, the pay in that field goes down simply because people just value the world of women less than they do men, according to the New York Times.

So What Can We Do About It?

How do we fix the problem? First and foremost, let's change the way we look at moms and dads. Other than pregnancy and breastfeeding, there's nothing that moms do for their kids that dads can't – or shouldn't – be doing in equal measure. If you know a dad who's splitting child care 50-50, pat him on the back, and if you know one who isn't, call him out on it. If moms aren't required to do all (or most) of the parenting, they won't have to be relegated to selling essential oils or fingernail stickers to make ends meet, and they won't be falling asleep during conference calls.

If we can do that (give it 1,000 years), maybe, in time, employers won't see moms as synonymous with "workers who do a half-a*sed job." Maybe then we won't think of Twitter and Coca-Cola as being generous for offering paid leave, because it's not actually a luxury — it's a necessity. Mothers are essential for continuing the human race; it's time we were treated them like members of it.