The topic of the gender wage gap, which is the difference in earnings when comparing men and women, has been a focus of the public’s attention in recent years. One argument used to justify the existence of this gap is the idea that women work less because they have to have a break from their responsibilities when they decide to have children. Men, on the other hand, invest more time in their work, which allows them to earn higher wages. This paper will analyze the empirical findings on the topic of motherhood and the wage gap. Motherhood does not have an effect on the gender wage gap because the difference in earnings is true for women before they have children and for females with no children and because policies targeting social perceptions of employment affect this gap.
The wage gap exists for women even before they have children, which supports the idea that motherhood has little effect on this occurrence. According to Combet and Oesch (2019, p. 332), “young women earn lower wages than young men with the same productive characteristics long before they have children.” This study was conducted on a population of Swiss young adults with the same educational background and professional aspirations. Both women and men in this study did not have children, although men earned from 3% to 6% higher wages when compared to their female colleagues (Combet & Oesch, 2019). When translated into annual earnings, this means that women lost half of their monthly earnings each year.
The justification of men earning more than women is linked to the latter spending time on motherhood. Cukrowska-Torzewska and Matysiak (2020) support the idea that the wage gap is a result of the break and loss of human capital that is linked to women taking a break from their jobs to become mothers. However, the authors identify different reasons for people who have one and several children. For example, an average gender wage gap for a mother with one child is from 3.6% to 3.8% is linked to these individuals’ career choices (Cukrowska-Torzewska and Matysiak, 2020). In this cohort, the women with one child worked in low-paying positions before motherhood, which is the reason why their earnings were low after giving birth, which is not true for individuals with more than one child. As for women with more than one child, Cukrowska-Torzewska and Matysiak (2020) report that their lower earnings are associated with the breaks they take from their careers. Thus, this study shows the complex nature of factors that impact the gender wage gap, such as the type of career and the number of children.
The social norms and views on women in the workforce have not adapted to females working. Moreover, Fuller (2019) argues that females have entered the workforce fairly recently, with the development of the industrial economy. Although maternal employment is a norm in the contemporary world, the social views on gender and wages had remained the same as before, when men were the only earners of the household’s income. Fuller (2019) reports that in Canada, the disproportion between the wages of males and females is linked to the employment characteristic since women are more likely to be employed at places where wages are low for all genders. Hence, the discrepancy in the wage gap between the mothers and men is a result of the former working for companies that hire people for low-paying positions.
Considering the social norms, the state’s active participation in addressing the issue should affect the decrease of the gender wage gap. According to Cukrowska-Torzewska and Matysiak (2020, p. 102416), “residual gap is smallest in Nordic countries, where public policies actively support gender equality and reconciliation of work and family, as well as Belgium and France, and largest in the post-socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Anglo-Saxon countries.” This finding supports the idea that the gender wage gap is predominantly linked to the social norms and the public’s perception of other’s human capital value.
Another social norm aspect that affects the gap is that fathers receive a premium on their salary after they gave children, which is not true for women. Glauber (2018) analyzed data from the Population Survey since the 1980s and reports women tend to earn less than men after they give birth. Moreover, this trend began to change in the 1990s, when women were no longer “penalized,” and their salaries did not decrease after having children (Gauber, 2018). However, this had little effect on the earnings ‘gap since fathers began to earn higher premiums.
Overall, motherhood has no direct impact on the gender wage gap, and this occurrence is associated with social norms and employment attitudes. In many cases, women earn less even before having children. Additionally, females with one child typically work in places that pay low ages to all of their employees. However, the policies that address parenting and employment norms reduce the earnings gap, as evident from the example of the Nordic states.
Combet, B. and Oesch, D. (2019) ‘The gender wage gap opens long before motherhood. Panel evidence on early careers in Switzerland’, European Sociological Review, 35(3), pp. 332-345.
Cukrowska-Torzewska, E. and Matysiak, A. (2020) ‘The motherhood wage penalty: meta-analysis’, Social Science Research, 88-89, p. 102416.
Fuller, S. (2017) ‘Segregation across workplaces and the motherhood wage gap: why do mothers work in low-wage establishments?’, Social Forces, 96(4), pp. 1443-1476.
Glauber, R. (2018) ‘Trends in the motherhood wage penalty and fatherhood wage premium for low, middle, and high earners’, Demography, 55(5), pp. 1663-1680.