UK Report: Part-Time Work a Major Factor in Motherhood Penalty

UK Report: Part-Time Work a Major Factor in Motherhood Penalty

The latest report on the gender pay gap from the UK’s Institute for Fiscal Studies sheds some new light on precisely how becoming a mother leads women to earn less than men—the so-called “motherhood penalty”—and contributes to the gender pay gap. The BBC highlights the key findings:

The Institute for Fiscal Studies report found by the time a couple’s first child is aged 20, many mothers earn nearly a third less than the fathers. A key factor was women working part-time in motherhood, the report said. …

“The effect of part-time work in shutting down wage progression is especially striking,” the report added. “Whereas, in general, people in paid work see their pay rise year on year as they gain more experience, our new research shows that part-time workers miss out on these gains.” The vast majority of part-time workers were women, especially mothers of young children, the report said.

Other studies, including a previous version of the same IFS report, have identified the motherhood penalty as a major factor (if not indeed the factor) driving the gender pay gap over time. These studies have found that even when women and men start out their careers earning equal salaries, disparities begin to emerge in their late 20s and 30s, coinciding with the years in which women are most likely to have children. Because women are expected to take on the bulk of child care responsibilities, it is mothers who are usually forced to take career breaks or work part-time to make room in their schedules for these obligations, while fathers tend to remain at work.

The impact of part-time work explains why the gender pay gap among university graduates in the UK has not narrowed since 1993, even as gaps among non-graduates have become smaller: Women in skilled professions who shift from full-time to part-time work can lose out on promotion opportunities and raises, irreparably reducing their lifetime earnings. Previous research has shown that the motherhood penalty has the greatest impact on high-income, high-skill women because pay progression in their fields is tied much more strongly to continuous experience and employment.

The impact of the motherhood penalty is why advocates for gender equality encourage employers to provide paid leave to both mothers and fathers when welcoming a new child into their family, both in order to encourage the equal sharing of parental responsibilities and to normalize parental leave so that women are not stigmatized for taking it.

Unfortunately, even when such gender-equal leave policies are in place, women still seem to bear most of the burden of raising children. Corinne Purtill and Dan Kopf at Quartz highlight a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research showing why Denmark’s generous paternity leave law and childcare subsidies haven’t closed the gender gap there:

Compared to the US, the only developed country on the planet that doesn’t guarantee paid leave to new mothers, Denmark’s parental leave policy is a dream. Denmark grants a family 52 weeks of paid leave upon the birth of a child. The mother is guaranteed 18 of those weeks, the father is entitled to two, and the remaining 32 can be divided between the parents as they wish. In practice, women end up taking 92.8% of that time, according to the OECD.

A new working paper (not yet peer reviewed) from the US National Bureau of Economic Research finds that first maternity leave marks the beginning of a noticeable and permanent decline in a woman’s earning power and career power. Both men and women with children see a dip in their earnings compared to childless counterparts. But the decline for mothers is almost 20 percentage points larger than it is for fathers—a gap that increases with the number of children a family chooses to have.