Abolishing the "Motherhood Penalty": On the Gender Pay-Gap for New Parents

Thanks to last week’s WCW, Robin Wright, we’ve been thinking a lot about the gender pay-gap here at Mama Said this week, especially for new parents. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) reports that after accounting for working hours and marital status, on average, new fathers are rewarded with a 6% pay increase while mothers receive a 4% decrease in earnings per child.

The New York Times reports that these pay differences exist even when controlling for industry and spouses’ wages. These phenomena are often referred to as the “Motherhood Penalty” and “Fatherhood Bonus,” and, according to the New York Times, the phenomena are less about the performance of new parents in the workplace than about America being stuck in a cultural rut, which the Times specifies as a “cultural bias against mothers.”

Worse yet, the Times reports that low-income women are most affected by the phenomenon, particularly those with non-flexible schedules and no paid parental leave. Alternately, women in the top 10% of earners are not likely to experience any sort of pay cuts, and the top 5% of women earners may see increases in pay once they become mothers.

Image by John-Patrick Thomas for the New York Times

Image by John-Patrick Thomas for the New York Times

But what can we do about this “motherhood penalty” for the other 90% of women? While the AAUW sees policy change, particularly in regards to pay equity laws, as the ultimate answer, in the meantime individuals and companies can begin to make a difference. On the individual level, negotiating for higher pay, or at least pay equal to male counterparts, can make a difference (here’s looking at you, Robin Wright!). At a corporate level, companies can offer a flexible schedule that is better suited to parent employees, and according to an article on FastCompany.com, is also the most-desired and most-engaging way for millenials to work. Additionally, offering paid parental leave reduces the mother-as-caretaker stigma by also giving fathers time off after their child is born.

At Mama Said, we are working to improve relationships between parents and their employers in an effort to make the workplace a more equitable and understanding environment for working parents. Check out our Services page to learn more!