Motherhood Wage Penalty: A large pay gap exists between mothers and non-mothers

Jun 05, 2015

On Wednesday, we covered the wage gap as our wonky word for the week. This got me thinking and I wanted to continue with the subject of pay differences between groups. So today let’s talk about the motherhood wage penalty and dive deeper into the causes of why mothers may experience greater loss in wages and career opportunities compared to women who do not have children.

We know from Wonky Word Wednesday that on average, women working in America are paid just 77 cents to every dollar men are paid. Compounding this income difference is the fact that women are also more likely than men to take time off work to care for their children or elderly parents. Research has found that both the wage gap and the different work histories between women and men causes women and their families to lose $431,000 on average over their lifetime.

However, for women with young children, the wage gap between mothers and non-mothers can be even greater than the pay gap between men and women. This is called the motherhood wage penalty.

Estimates suggest that for each child under the age of 6, mothers experience a 7% decrease in income compared to women without children. So for example, a full-time working mom with 2 children under the age of 6 may have an annual income of $43,000 on average, while a working woman with no children will earn $50,000. The mother loses out on $7,000 each year, this loss of income builds over time, and the mom likely has fewer opportunities to be promoted because she needs more time off to care for her young children. Arguably, this mother is even more affected by the motherhood penalty than the working woman is affected by the gender pay gap since she has to provide for her young children and also balance work and home responsibilities.

So what causes this penalty? Well, like the wage gap, there are “measurable factors” that researchers can definitively point to that result in the motherhood gap, including:

Yet, like the gender wage gap, a portion of the gap between mothers and non-mothers cannot be explained and many believe the following factors contribute to this:

In Montana, over 18,000 children under the age of six live in households with single-female breadwinners. These mothers are responsible for working and providing financially for their children. After a long day at work they come home and begin a “second shift” cooking, shopping, cleaning, and caring for their families. Simply because they are female and mothers, they face a larger loss in income and job opportunities than men and non-mothers in the state, yet arguably, they are the group that needs this income the most. Policies like paid family leave would provide single moms (and all working parents) the chance to continue making a living, take necessary time off to care for children and elderly parents, and return to work after leave.


Montana Budget & Policy Center

Shaping policy for a stronger Montana.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.