Moms Are Still Earning Less Than Women Without Kids, New Study Finds, & It's A Huge Problem


The gender wage gap is much more nuanced than it seems. According to a new study, there is such a thing as a "motherhood penalty" in the United States when it comes to equal pay. Based on years of research, authors concluded that moms have consistently earned less money than women without kids, from the mid-1980s through 2014.

The study was authored by Eunjung Jee and Joya Misra of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Marta Murray-Close, a research economist for the U.S. Census Bureau, and it was published by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. The group examined the wage gap between mothers and women without children over three periods of time: 1986-1995, 1996-2004, and 2006-2014. They discovered that during each of the time periods, the motherhood penalty was consistent. Interestingly, the pay penalty may have gotten worse over time for moms with just one child; however, the gap between childless women and moms with two or more children has actually narrowed.

As the study explained: "While the gross gap in pay between childless women and mothers of two or more children has narrowed, it has only done so because mothers’ have increased their investments in human capital, such as education and workforce experience."

Because of this, Misra advises women who have children in her classes not to mention that they are mothers to potential employers. "There's no reason for you in any way to indicate you're a mother," Misra tells her students, as reported by CNN. "I want you to get the job."

Misra and the other researchers cited multiple factors for this disparity. Primarily, as they noted, the discrepancy is more prevalent in the United States than in other countries, because the United States' work-family policies, paid parental leave policies, and public pre-schooling system are much more limited than in other countries. As such, the authors suggest that moms in the United States may "find it more difficult to balance work and care, which could harm their experience, productivity, and subsequent wages." Furthermore, the authors believe that "progress toward gender equality seems to have stalled in the late 1990s."

"It's really, really, really clear," Misra told CNN. "Universal subsidized childcare has the most important effect on reducing the motherhood penalty."

So what can be done to decrease the motherhood penalty? The authors believe their findings prove that the solution here is stronger policies that support working mothers. They wrote:

Our findings may thus confirm that changes mothers can make — in their human capital investment, as well as in their employment patterns — may not be enough to create real change. Policies aimed at supporting mothers’ employment may be a necessary next step, if we hope to lower the motherhood wage penalty.

And even though the authors mentioned that the motherhood penalty was more severe in the United States than in many other countries, a January 2018 study conducted in Denmark proves that the issue affects women all over the world. The study, written by Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, and Jakob Egholt Søgaard and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, studied Danish data from 1980 to 2013. The researchers not only noticed a motherhood penalty, but they found that "most of the remaining gender inequality in earnings is due to children." They explained:

Based on a dynamic decomposition framework, we show that the fraction of gender inequality caused by child penalties has increased dramatically over time, from about 40% in 1980 to about 80% in 2013.

Furthermore, The Economist suggested that the motherhood penalty is the number one reason why the pay gap between men and women stopped narrowing. "Employers view long hours as a sign of commitment and leadership potential," the outlet wrote. "But from scarce, pricey child care to short school days, the world is organised for families with a parent at home — and that is usually the mother."

It's clear that there is a lot of work to be done in order to combat the motherhood penalty. Being a woman or a mother should not be seen as a negative in the workplace, and thankfully there are organizations working to combat that.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.