Great news! If you’re a man — especially a highly educated White or Latino man in a professional job — having a baby is great for your earnings.
Congrats, dads! We’re happy for you. No, really, we are. But what about women, you ask? The news ain’t so bright.
One of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children. Mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications.
For men, meanwhile, having a child is good for their careers. They are more likely to be hired than childless men, and tend to be paid more after they have children.
These differences persist even after controlling for factors like the hours people work, the types of jobs they choose and the salaries of their spouses. So the disparity is not because mothers actually become less productive employees and fathers work harder when they become parents — but because employers expect them to.
This bias is most extreme for the parents who can least afford it, according to new data from Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has studied the parenthood pay gap for 15 years. High-income men get the biggest pay bump for having children, and low-income women pay the biggest price, she said in a paper published this month by Third Way, a research group that aims to advance moderate policy ideas. “Families with lower resources are bearing more of the economic costs of raising kids,” she said in an interview.
Ms. Budig found that on average, men’s earnings increased more than 6 percent when they had children (if they lived with them), while women’s decreased 4 percent for each child they had. Her study was based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979 to 2006, which tracked people’s labor market activities over time. Childless, unmarried women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers earn 76 cents, widening the gap.
At the other end of the earnings spectrum, low-income women lost 6 percent in wages per child, two percentage points more than the average. For men, the largest bonuses went to white and Latino men who were highly educated and in professional jobs. The smallest pay bumps went to unmarried African-American men who had less education and had manual labor jobs. “The daddy bonus increases the earnings of men already privileged in the labor market,” Ms. Budig wrote.
The motherhood penalty hurts more than mothers. Women are now the sole or primary breadwinner in 40% of American families. When women aren’t fairly compensated for their work, it means they must pick up extra jobs to support their families. Children who grow up in low-income households are less likely to receive adequate healthcare, have enough food to eat and attend college. What’s more, devaluing women’s work, both in status and in pay, sends the message to young girls and women that their work is simply not as important as their male counterparts.
Addressing women’s pay gaps means adopting a package of laws to protect women – policies such as paycheck transparency, paid family leave and paid sick days. Without these, women will continue to be subject to the whims of employers and a politics of greed. It’s time to step towards a brighter future for women. We need it, we deserve it, we demand it.
By Sam Hatzenbeler, MPHc, Graduate Policy Intern