Study: Moms still earn less than childless women — and the gap isn’t closing

Mar 13, 2018, 4:57 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2022, 3:59 pm

According to new research co-authored by Misra and two economists, that gap hasn't narrowed at all ...

According to new research co-authored by Misra and two economists, that gap hasn't narrowed at all since the 1980s. And for some women, it's even increased.

(CNN Money) — Joya Misra, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, has a simple piece of advice for her female graduate students pursuing a career in academia.

“There’s no reason for you in any way to indicate you’re a mother,” Misra tells them. “I want you to get the job.”

The reason: There’s a longstanding gap between the wages of mothers and those of childless women.

According to new research co-authored by Misra and two economists, that gap hasn’t narrowed at all since the 1980s. And for some women, it’s even increased.

The study found that when correcting for education, occupation and work experience, the pay gap for mothers with one child rose from 9% in the period between 1986 and 1995 to 15% between 2006 and 2014. For mothers with two kids, the gap held steady at 13% and stayed at 20% for mothers with three or more children.

The paper draws upon the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which has tracked about 18,000 individuals from 5,000 families since it began in 1968, making it an unusually powerful tool to measure how wages respond to demographics and life events.

Related: The unpaid work that always falls to women

The “motherhood penalty,” as it’s been called, helps to explain why women overall make 81 cents on every dollar a man makes. Conversely, research has shown that having children actually raises wages for men, even when correcting for the number of hours they work.

Why hasn’t the discrepancy eased, even as the share of mothers with young kids working has risen from 47% in 1975 to 70% in 2015?

The researchers point to a lack of progress on family-friendly policies in the United States, such as paid parental leave and subsidized childcare. Other countries, including Sweden, have narrowed their gender pay gaps after instituting such laws.

“It’s really, really, really clear,” says Misra, who has studied the policies different countries use to support mothers. “Universal subsidized childcare has the most important effect on reducing the motherhood penalty.”

It’s an issue confronting human resource managers, too. When it comes to handing out raises or promotions, they must decide how to treat the time off that women take after having a child.

Related: The benefits women actually want in a workplace

“We’re absolutely convinced that a significant part of that is women having to make choices in their childbearing years,” says Society for Human Resources Management CEO Johnny Taylor, on the motherhood penalty. Mandating that employers provide paid parental leave would help, he says, but it won’t stop employers from treating women differently for taking the time they need off after giving birth.

He offered the example of a law firm. “You’re a female associate,” Taylor says. “Should you be considered for partnership at the end of your seven years, when you took nine months off? We’re trying to solve for that.”

Of course, punishing anyone for having family responsibilities is illegal. Lawsuits charging discrimination on that basis have skyrocketed in recent years, according to a 2016 report by the Center for Worklife Law at Hastings College of the Law.

But the total number of cases remains small, and Misra says that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doesn’t have enough money to proactively police the issue.

“If they had many more investigators, workplaces would tighten up more than they have,” Misra says. “What they primarily have learned is what to say and not say in order to be within the law, rather than how to actually not discriminate.”

™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live


Former President Donald Trump speaks during a Get Out the Vote Rally March 2 in Richmond, Virginia....

Gregory Krieg, CNN

Trump will win North Dakota GOP caucuses, CNN projects

 Former President Donald Trump will win North Dakota’s Republican presidential caucuses, CNN projects, claiming one final boost before the campaign expands to 15 states on Super Tuesday.

9 minutes ago

FILE - Left to right, clockwise: Twitter former executives Vijaya Gadde, Parag Agrawal, Ned Segal, ...

Brian Fung and Clare Duffy, CNN

Former Twitter execs sue Elon Musk over severance payments

A group of former Twitter executives sued Elon Musk on Monday in a bid to recover more than $128 million in severance that they allege Musk has not paid since he acquired the company, now called X, more than a year ago.

3 hours ago

Cookie Monster has taken to X to express his frustration over shrinking products, aka: "shrinkflati...

Bryan Mena, CNN

Even Cookie Monster is complaining about the US economy now

Cookie Monster has taken a stance on a very real and controversial trend in the US economy — and he hates it.

6 hours ago

Thousands of pounds of Trader Joe's chicken soup dumplings have been recalled due to possible conta...

Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

61,000 pounds of Trader Joe’s chicken soup dumplings recalled due to possible contamination with hard plastic

More than 61,000 pounds Trader Joe’s steamed chicken soup dumplings are being recalled due to possible contamination with hard plastic from a permanent marker.

6 hours ago

The Federal Aviation Administration has found multiple problems with Boeing’s production practice...

Pete Muntean, Gregory Wallace and Chris Isidore, CNN

FAA finds ‘multiple instances’ of Boeing quality control issues

The Federal Aviation Administration has found multiple problems with Boeing’s production practices following a six-week audit triggered by the January 5 door plug blowout on an Alaska Airlines’ Boeing 737 Max 9.

6 hours ago


Matt Schooley

Referee dies after collapsing during high school basketball game

A referee died after collapsing in the closing moments of a Watertown high school basketball game on Friday, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association confirmed.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Study: Moms still earn less than childless women — and the gap isn’t closing