Gender Pay Gap For Mothers Widens For 12 Years After Having Children, New Research Finds

'We are wasting women’s skills and experience'.
<strong>The financial penalty of having children has been called a 'motherhood wage penalty' (stock image)</strong>
The financial penalty of having children has been called a 'motherhood wage penalty' (stock image)
IuriiSokolov via Getty Images

Women suffer a “motherhood wage penalty” that sees their pay fall, relative to men, for more than a decade after having children, new research reveals today.

Women earn 18% less an hour than men, the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) research showed but the gender pay gap widens for 12 years after childbirth for mothers to the point they are earning 33% less than men an hour.

Campaigners said this was “trapping families in poverty” and “wasting women’s skills and experience”.

The pay gap for women is smaller before they have children and tends to fall just before they do.

The researchers said mothers’ pay hit was due to them working fewer hours after having a child, costing them “subsequent wage progression” in missed promotions or having less experience than others in their profession, as men pull further and further ahead.

<strong>Women's hourly earnings fall relative to men's for 12 years after the birth of their first child</strong>
Women's hourly earnings fall relative to men's for 12 years after the birth of their first child
Institute of Fiscal Studies

Between the year before and the year after the birth of the child, the employment rate for women is lower but barely changes for men. A third of women educated to GCSE level are no longer in work a year after having their first child.

Twenty years after they had their first child, women’s employment rates have still not caught up with men’s, the IFS research found.

Sam Smethers, chief executive of women’s equality campaigners the Fawcett Society, said: “What this study very clearly shows is the motherhood wage penalty, which is exacerbated by a lack of quality part-time work.

“We are wasting women’s skills and experience because of the way we choose to structure our labour market.

“Part-time workers can be the most productive, yet reduced hours working becomes a career cul-de-sac for women from which they can’t recover. We desperately need to see more quality part-time jobs.”

The research was funded in part by social research charity The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), which set out a package of measures to address financial penalty of motherhood.

They included:

  • Employers analysing their ratio of full-time to part-time workers by pay band to shed light on causes of their gender pay gap

  • Businesses providing training and progression routes, particularly in low-paid sectors which have high numbers of female employees, such as care, retail and catering

  • The government reforming childcare to improve the quality, cost and access on offer – to improve work incentives and help balance work and family life

Helen Barnard, head of analysis at the JRF, said the IFS research showed “how the gender pay gap is trapping families in poverty by depriving mothers of the opportunity to achieve their potential in the work place”.

“Taking time out of work to have children and working part time both affect earnings for women,” she said.

“Almost one million parents have the qualifications for good-quality jobs, want part-time or flexible jobs, and are either workless or working below their skill levels.

“Many part-time jobs suffer from a pay penalty and are clustered in lower-paid roles. Enabling more women to stay in work and progress to better paid work after having children could reduce poverty in the short, medium and long term, with better security for women’s incomes in later life.”

She added that closing the gender pay gap could led to a 9.2% reduction in poverty.

The report also found that the gender pay gap has fallen, from 28% in 1993 to 18% now.

Robert Joyce, associate director at the IFS and one of the report’s authors, said this was largely due to the pay gap declining for lower-educated women, while the gap in hourly pay of higher-educated men and women “has not closed at all”.

He added: “Women in jobs involving fewer hours of work have particularly low hourly wages, and this is because of poor pay progression, not because they take an immediate pay cut when switching away from full-time work.

“Understanding that lack of progression is going to be crucial to making progress in reducing the gender wage gap.”

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