It’s no easy feat being a working mom. Juggling both a career and family takes a lot of strength, patience and skill, and is something that should be rewarded. But according to a new study, the opposite is happening: women continue to rake in less money simply for having kids.
In the study, researchers from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth looked at the wage gap between working moms and female workers without children during the 1986 to 1995, 1996 to 2004 and 2006 to 2014 time periods, using data from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics. They found that working moms receive a pay penalty for each kid they have. Compared to women without kids, working moms with three or more children earned approximately 18 percent less, the Boston Globe reports. For moms with two children, they earned about 13 percent less than their counterparts without kids, and interestingly, moms with just one child earned between 8 to 14 percent less. The findings held true even when the moms and women without kids had the same education and experience.
Although the idea of the motherhood penalty has been around for decades, the research serves as an important reminder that despite all our advancements—more mothers in the workforce, more women rising to top positions in companies and more women earning college degrees—this is still a problem.
According to study co-author Joya Misra, a professor of sociology and public policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, having many kids isn’t the main issue—it’s being a mom in the first place. Misra tells the Boston Globe, “Whether you have one or two doesn’t really matter to an employer. Just the fact that you’re a mother is powerful enough that they’re not looking to see how many you have.”
But lower wages aren’t the only consequence to being a working mom—employers’ perceptions of their capabilities take a hit too. As the Boston Globe reports, a 2007 Cornell University study found that employers tend to consider moms to be less competent and productive at their jobs than women without kids. Meanwhile, dads are rewarded for having families. And in 2017, a French study that also looked at the motherhood penalty found that moms make 3 percent less for every child they have.
On top of that are the consequences for just being women. Because of the gender wage gap, women currently earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes in the U.S. A 2016 study also found that women don’t even get raises as often as men do—and yes, they certainly do ask.
So what can we do to make sure this motherhood penalty goes away? As the Boston Globe reports, previous studies point to more family-friendly policies as the way to go, and here at Working Mother, we couldn’t agree more. Employers need to let go of the notion that women can’t be dedicated employees and parents, and instead give working moms the resources they need, like access to paid maternity leave and flexible schedules, so they can juggle their responsibilities—and be better, loyal employees at a result.