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5 Explanations for Lower Earnings Among Mothers than Childless Women


5 Explanations for Lower Earnings Among Mothers than Childless Women

It’s probably no surprise to most that women earn less on average than men; however, one interesting element of this disparity is the impact of having children.

According to Michelle Budig’s research study titled “The Fatherhood Bonus & The Motherhood Penalty,” men’s salaries tend to increase after having children, while women’s decrease.

The study compares data on men’s and women’s earnings, and then evaluates some hypotheses for the disparity.

“Why might men’s earnings rise when they become fathers?” Budig asks.

She offers two potential sources of correlation:

Treatment Effect: Men with children are treated preferentially.

Selection Effect: Men who have children have certain characteristics that make them more likely to earn higher wages, and vice versa.

After analyzing the data, Budig concludes that the former is a more compelling reason: “Fatherhood is a valued characteristic of employers, signaling perhaps greater work commitment, stability, and deservingness.”

According to Budig, there are at least five explanations for lower earnings among mothers than childless women:

1. Many women interrupt their careers to stay home to care for their children. That interruption can, later, leader to lower wages and disparities between their salaries and the salaries of their male colleagues who didn’t interrupt their careers in the same way.

2. Also because of the greater likelihood for women to take on more of the child caretaking role, they may decide to forego higher wage opportunities in favor of jobs at companies that are more “mother-friendly,” and that allow them the work-life balance they require.

3. Budig suggests that the demands of childrearing may also leave mothers “exhausted or distracted at work, rendering them less productive.”

4. There may be an impact caused by employers that may discriminate against mothers by making assumptions about their levels of commitment and, consequently, not assigning them the same types of tasks or providing the same types of opportunities that serve to propel their male colleagues further up the ladder—and pay scale.

5. Finally, suggests, Budig, “women who are less likely to earn higher wages may be more likely to become mothers, and the relationship between motherhood and wages can be explained by these other factors.”

The key takeaway: maybe It’s not just gender at play, but other impacts as well. Bulig’s research suggests that skilled, well-educated, higher-earning women are less likely to experience a pay gap after having children than those in low-skill, low-paying jobs.

Disparities certainly exist in many organizations; do they exist at yours? If so, what’s behind the disparities? This salary calculator provided by The Washington Post provides some interesting insights into the impacts of age, marital status, race/ethnicity and educational levels on salary.

Take a look at the salary levels in your organization—how do they compare?

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