The motherhood penalty: Balancing work and family obligations

brief thumbnail

Evaluating Family and Medical Leave Insurance for Washington State

As women’s participation in the workforce has increased, families have become more dependent on women’s earnings – particularly since the Great Recession left significantly more men without jobs. Yet, women continue to take home less than their male counterparts across industries, age ranges and education levels. According to research by the Center for American Progress, a typical Washington woman earns $524,000 less than her male counterpart over a 40-year career.

Although a number of factors contribute to the earnings gap, many women experience what is known as the “motherhood penalty” – women with children have more difficulty getting hired and are more likely to be offered lower pay than other women and men with equivalent qualifications.

Notably, disparities in pay begin to increase as women reach child-bearing age. As they move into sandwich years, when they are caring for children and elders at the same time, the earnings gap continues to widen because women are less likely to receive promotions and accompanying pay raises.

average monthly earnings by sex

Childbirth and family care

For women working full-time, paid sick and vacation leave have become more available for situations when a few days of leave is needed. However, sick and vacation leave are usually short-term and insufficient for serious health or family issues.


Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that more than half of first-time mothers used some form of paid leave after the birth of their first child between 2006 and 2008. More than a third of these women used a combination of leave, including paid vacation and sick days to spend time recovering from childbirth and caring for their newborns. Further, data show that while fewer women are quitting their jobs to care for newborns, more women are taking unpaid leave after giving birth and slightly more are being let go from their jobs.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in A Fair Deal at Work, Paid Family and Medical Leave, Paid Sick Days


  1. Jackie says:

    I have always doubted the sincerity of the pious rhetoric that we hear (usually around Mothers’ Day) about the contribution of stay-at-home mothers to society. if the politicians who spout it really believed their own words, full-time motherhood would earn Social Security credits. When I was divorced in my early 40s i had to start from scratch to build up any retirement and/or Social Security. I would now be living in poverty had I not gone to work for my county government where women received equal pay for equal work. The wholesale assault on public jobs not only erodes public services, it forces women into the private sector where equal pay is still the exception rather than the rule,and women who enter the workforce after staying at home to raise several children are penalized. Women can’t live on mushy Mothers’ Day sentiments from politicians.

Leave a Reply

Search the blog

Subscribe to the blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Like what you’re reading?
Reader support helps preserve our independent voice for the middle class - please chip in to help out!