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New research into motherhood pay gap highlights inequality

A new report released to coincide with International Women’s Day finds that mothers who work face a widening pay gap compared to women without children, which expands even further for every child they go on to have.

British women who want to work full-time are among the worst hit, due to a lack of available facilities to care for children after school or during the working day. Mothers with two children, for example, earn 25% less than women without children.

Women who have children young – aged 25 and under – and those to who take longer leave from work also experience longer lasting wage penalties.

The paper – released by the International Labour Office, a UN body, contains research from two leading employment academics at Manchester Business School, Professors Jill Rubery and Damian Grimshaw, who have reviewed the issue of motherhood pay gaps across the globe.

The paper makes a number of policy recommendations in order to redress the gap between the pay of working mothers and their childless peers.

Professor Damian Grimshaw, an expert in comparative employment systems at MBS said: “Mothers in the UK, as in most countries in the world, tend to earn lower pay than women without children and men with or without children, after controlling for differences in education, work experience and occupation.

“Hundreds of studies by economists and sociologists have attempted to estimate what is known as the ‘motherhood pay gap’ and to identify its causes. They find that the gap tends to widen with number of children and that there are large country differences –in some mothers seem to experience a one-off penalty on return to employment and soon catch up in earnings while in others the penalty seems to cumulate over time.”

The paper examines three key reasons for the motherhood pay gap.

Economic reasons include perceptions about mothers’ levels of commitment at work, depreciation of skill due to interruption and the choice to return to family-friendly jobs which might be lower paid.

By contrast, sociologists point to the way negative stereotypes about mothers’ commitment shape employers’ hiring and promotion decisions and to the failure of markets to provide suitable levels of childcare to support mothers in paid employment.

A third set of ideas, most suited to making positive policy recommendations, comes from studies in the field of comparative studies. These find that differences in welfare states (childcare, maternity/paternity leave, tax/benefits) help explain the wide differences in size of the motherhood pay gap.

If the UK wishes to reduce the wage penalty that mothers experience, the paper highlights that  it needs to:

  • Improve the statutory level of income-related pay for mothers and fathers taking leave
  • Make childcare more accessible, better quality and affordable
  • Adjust tax credit rules so that mothers are treated as economically independent adults, not second earners
  • Act proactively to counter negative stereotypes about mothers’ commitment to paid employment
  • Encourage family-friendly workplace cultures

The full paper can be read here >>