Having children sharply increases the pay gap between men and women, and this “motherhood penalty” has long-term consequences for a woman’s earning potential and a man’s ability to spend time with his family, a study suggests.
Working mothers earn nearly 20 percent less than working fathers 10 years after their first child was born, according to the report by think-tank the Social Market Foundation (SMF). The researchers suggest fathers should be supported and encouraged to work flexibly to reduce the impact that having children has on women’s careers and to improve their own life satisfaction.
Nicole Gicheva, SMF researcher, said: “There is a common idea that it makes sense for women to work part-time while fathers remain full-time because men earn more. But wage rates before children are not so different and it is actually the choices that parents feel they have to make about their working patterns after having children that can increase variations in pay rates.
“The consequences of those choices can disadvantage both women and men. Women miss out on work and pay, men miss out on time with their children. A better balance of work between the sexes could benefit everyone.”
Gicheva continued: “The decision for women to work part-time after having a child can make sense for a family and no-one should try to dictate how parents should combine work and family. But it is also decision that can have far-reaching consequences for a woman’s employment and pay.”
Before they had children, mothers typically earned 101 percent of the average hourly wage and fathers earned 112 percent. Three years after having children, both mothers and fathers had higher wage rates, reflecting their greater age. But the wage gap between the two widens significantly: men with children earn 127 percent of average wages, while pay rates for women with children only rise to 102 percent.
Mothers are also more likely to work fewer hours than fathers. Three years after their last child is born, only 45 percent of women work full time, while 92 percent of men do. The average number of hours worked by mothers in employment falls from 37 to 25.
Fathers too face decisions around how to balance their work and financial responsibilities with time spent caring for their family - but for men the impact is likely to be longer working hours: Their average working week rises from 38 to 39 hours.
More than a third (36%) of fathers report that they would take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance, but many feel uncomfortable requesting flexible work as the culture in their workplace is unsupportive of their wishes for more childcare responsibilities.
Joeli Brearly founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, an organisation that supports women facing maternity discrimination, told HuffPost UK, that this pay gap speaks volumes about the bias against mothers in the workplace.
“Reducing this pay gap requires a change in cultural attitudes towards the role of mothers and fathers as well as a change in legislation and company practice,” she said. “The key factors that influence this are a lack of flexible working, a lack of progression for people working part time, pregnancy/maternity discrimination and conscious and unconscious bias towards mothers in the workplace.
“Time and time again studies and research have shown that mothers are perceived as less competent, less committed and deserving of lower salaries than other types of workers.
“Mothers take pay cuts and demotions while fathers get pay rises and promotions. It is time to change the narrative so that employers and our legislation view children as the equal responsibility of both parents.”
It is time to change the narrative so that employers and our legislation view children as the equal responsibility of both parents."
The SMF said its study, follows on from an “important” report from the Commons Women and Equalities Committee in March, which called for longer paternity leave for new fathers to help balance career progression for men and women. The think-tank recommended policies including requiring employers to state on all job vacancy notices whether they are willing to consider part-time or flexible working arrangements.