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Women who try to have it all will likely pay a mommy penalty

A new report says women with children under age 18 earn less than other women, while men with kids earn more than their childless counterparts.

By Money Staff Nov 18, 2013 12:27PM

This post comes from Allison Linn at partner site CNBC.


CNBC on MSN MoneyCall it the mommy penalty versus the daddy bonus.


A new government report (.pdf file) finds that women with children under 18 earn less than women without minor children, while men with kids under 18 earn more than men who don't have younger kids.


Mother helping son with homework © KidStock, Blend Images, Getty ImagesExperts say it's further proof that, despite the many gains women have made in education and workplace equality in recent decades, mothers are still at risk of earning less because they also are parents.


"I think parenthood is like the new site of gender discrimination," said Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


Her research has shown that women generally make less money for each child they have, even after accounting for factors that would explain a salary reduction, such as taking time off for child-rearing and career choice. 

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to see an increase in their earnings for being married and having a family after accounting for other external factors that would affect earnings, according to Budig's research.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics report looked at the midpoint of weekly earnings for full-time workers. It found that in 2012, women with children under 18 had median weekly earnings of $680, versus $697 for women without children under 18.


Meanwhile, men with kids under 18 had median weekly earnings of $946, compared with $799 for men without minor children.


Overall, the BLS analysis showed that last year, women earned about 81 percent of what men earned in a usual week. That's a much narrower difference than when the government started tracking the data in 1979, but the improvements have become much slower and less steady in the past decade or so.


The gap between men's and women's earnings exists at all ages, but it is generally narrower when workers are young and widens more significantly at about 35, according to the latest BLS data.


That widening gap could be attributable to other factors, such as women's generally starting with lower salaries and less lucrative careers, and finding it harder to catch up over time, experts say. But many argue that parenthood probably plays a role.


Of course, some mothers choose less ambitious paths and thus lower-paying jobs because they have more child-rearing duties or want to be at home more.


But Francine Blau, an economics professor at Cornell University, said the problem comes when women who aren't making those trade-offs are treated as if they will be less productive because they have children.


"If employers believe on average that women with children would be less good workers, then they might discriminate against all women with children," she said.


Katherine Gallagher Robbins, a senior policy analyst with the National Women's Law Center, pointed out research showing that moms are often perceived -- consciously or not -- as less valuable workers. She noted a study in which participants were given two sets of résumés, with one set including activities that would point to being a parent.


The résumés that implied the woman was a mother generally got lower competency and commitment ratings and a lower recommended salary than those of a woman without children, while résumés suggesting a man was a dad commanded a higher salary than those for a man without kids.


Budig's research shows that the effect on earnings is true for all parents. Looking more narrowly at white women only, however, she found that the mommy penalty is especially strong for low-wage women. They are more likely to have trouble balancing less flexible jobs with the often-unexpected demands of parenthood, like a sick kid, she said.


"Women who earn less pay more -- they pay a higher proportional penalty for kids," Budig said.


Her research also has shown that married white moms pay a higher penalty than single moms after accounting for other factors, like age and the demographics of who gets married. But white women who are in the highest earnings bracket do not seem to be subject to the penalty.


In addition, her research found that the fatherhood bonus is especially true for well-educated white and Hispanic men.


"Men who conform to expectations of what makes a good man— -- being a highly educated, married father -- [are] more valued as an employee," Budig said.


The reports come as working mothers are increasingly important to family finances. A Pew Research Center report released earlier this year found that women are either the sole or primary breadwinner in 40 percent of U.S. households with children under age 18, in many cases because they are single mothers. That compares with just 11 percent in 1960.


"It really is an economic concern not just for women but for their families in general," said Robbins at the law center.


Blau, the economist, noted that families are changing in other ways and that men are much more involved in children's lives than they were a generation ago. The shift in attitudes about home life could eventually lead to changing attitudes about parents' position in the workplace.


As a practical matter, she said, more women are pursuing the type of educational specialty that is valuable to employers, such as a law degree or an MBAs. That could spur companies to start thinking more about keeping these highly educated moms happy, loyal -- and well compensated.


"It's sort of incumbent … upon employers to be concerned about these issues because they want to have the most productive workers," Blau said.


More from CNBC:



Nov 18, 2013 3:30PM
I'm going to call BS on this one. The company I work for is obsessed with diversity and inclusion to the point of obsession. Black managers hire almost exclusively black candidates, women managers promote unqualifed women because they're women.

All in the name of fairness. The sad part? Those of us who do not fit into the above mentioned package must never challenge the status quo due to being labeled a racist or bigot. I sit quietly and enjoy merely having a job.

Nov 18, 2013 3:40PM
Welcome to life.  You can't have everything.  If you accept it, life wil be easier.  If you try to do everything you will fail.  Some women can have a career and a family, some can only have one or the other.  If you want to call it a penalty, that is your choice.  But no one wants to hear you bitch and complain about what you can't have.  Get over it.
Nov 18, 2013 2:55PM
you choose to have kids, you take more time off to deal with your kids and the rest of us have to cover for you.  boo hoo,  i'm so tired of "her kid is sick she went home".  
Nov 18, 2013 3:52PM

Bull.  I am a single mom of 2 daughters that I raised alone from birth while working full time in a health care profession and taking classes on Saturdays.  True, kids do get sick and I have been in that situation many times, or kids with snow days and days off, but I managed to have a backup plan in the form of a neighbor, another school parent that was fortunate enough to be able to stay home, and even times when I had to take my sick kids to work with me and keep them in the staff room with crayons & coloring books, homework, fever medicine, a sleeping bag, you name it, all in the name of having to work and earn my pay to take care of all of us.  This was before politically correctness.  I chose to have kids, I had to work.  I did what I had to do. Period.  My salary did not change, my hours did not change, I kept my job.  You always have to have a backup plan, regardless of day care, child care, babysitting, etc.  It CAN be done.  I paid no penalties except not being able to find a seat for my sick children on the bus when my car wasn't working.   



Nov 18, 2013 3:00PM
Another day, another article explaining to us why merit doesn't matter.
Nov 18, 2013 2:50PM

Let me say this as an employer, this article is garbage. Lets be honest here in most family dynamics the mothers still get stuck dealing with the majority of child related issues. The courts see it that way and society still has that idea as a social norm. this makes a great deal of mothers poor employees and at the very least most of them as less reliable and less available. I pay my employees that cover shifts  an work on short notice and over time more money and moms are not able to do that.

Nov 18, 2013 8:32PM
As a married male without kids I cant tell you how many holidays and weekends I've had to work "because I didn't have kids" over the past 40 years it's just been expected at different jobs that those without kids would work the holidays when needed always kinda ticked me off.
Nov 18, 2013 5:21PM

LMFAO at studies conducted by a sociology professor (and teacher of feminist theory) at UM Amherst (because feminists are by far the most qualified people to conduct studies on economic issues!) and used by the National Women's Law Center.  Something tells me they have an agenda.


Thankfully, there is a study by CONSAD for the Department of Labor, the most exhaustive and comprehensive study ever done on this subject, which effectively debunks the gender wage gap myth, but seems to be overlooked by feminist academics for some odd reason.

Nov 18, 2013 4:50PM
How about "People who work hard and are intellectually bright make more money than people who sit around all day wanting government handouts!"
Nov 18, 2013 4:10PM
Agree with All Mine.  This is BS.  1.  Any statistical analyst know using medians can be very deceiving.  2.  Employers are going to pay the least they can pay to get the most they can get.  They are no different than any other consumer.  Employers "consume" labor.  Normal consumers "consume" goods.  If women with childeren under 18 are willing to work for less than men with children under 18, that's what employers will pay. 
Nov 18, 2013 3:17PM
Nov 18, 2013 2:42PM

Yes, women with young children earn less. It's because children get sick, the countless parent-teacher conferences, field trips etc. I would not hire w woman with children or grandchildren under their care if I knew they had kids. Why? Because there are dozens of reasons/excuses why that employee will be less dependable and have more frequent days off and being late to work. An employer needs employees to be there during work hours and for those employees to be one hundred percent focused on their work. Mothers have a hard time maintaining their complete focus on work when their are issues with their children. This is not about the "rights" of parenthood. This is not about being a "good" parent. The issue at hand is why working women with children under the age of eighteen earn less.


I have no real conclusion why men with children under eighteen earn more. But this isn't a sexist thing. This is about dealing with the real issues of life. Like it or not. It is what it is. And for those of you insulted by my comments, oh well. It's time we start facing the truth and quit living in this "blame everyone and everything else but me" world we have created in the US.

Nov 18, 2013 6:34PM

The article states they make less after adjusting for issues related to parenting and other factors????  Really, like what???  How were the adjustments made? What factors were considered?  The difference in an employee who takes off 6 months, two or three times to have kids and then comes back to their job?  How can this lady quantify what that means in the "average" job over time? What about the very large number of women who choose to leave their field for years so they can stay home, even when other options are available?  That has a huge impact on earning power after age 35, when the study says the gap really grows!  Really???  If one employee leaves for a year or more of their career and another does not, that will have an impact on future earnings.  And those jobs after 35, are harder to get, and fewer to find, so there is far less opportunity.  Not everyone can be the Sr. Manager, or the VP, and it usually will be the person laying the wood down every day for their career.  Besides I can guarantee a man who leaves the work force for extended periods of time will suffer serious damage to their earning power as well!  Unless its a competitive, or commission job, where the proof is in the pudding, it will have serious impact for both sexes.  The fact that well educated high earning white women don't seem to suffer the "penalty" is just proof that other factors are really whats at work here, and trying to make it about a new form of "discrimination" is just another scam.  The prof. lady said, "it might make them more likely discriminate against all women"  Which means she believes they are being "discriminated" against, she is just looking for a reason she "believes" is the cause. 


 Do women make less than men I general? Yes. Does that translate to worse overall career wages? Yes! Does having children and dealing with time off, and the issues of "primary care"  cost you opportunity, money, and status? Yes!   But you can almost always make a choice and almost always decide if its worth it to you to do it. Lets just tap the brakes on "discrimination on all women" and everyone is "equal".   In my expierience that is never the case, no two people are equal, and we are always willing to make any allowance or concession for the better person. Always!

Nov 18, 2013 3:47PM
I can't belive the comments I am reading below.  It's 2013, people.  The big problem here, is that while women who have children earn less than their childless counterparts, men with children earn more, suggesting there is an imbalance in child-care responsibilites.  Men should step up to the plate to be equal partners in raising their children so that their partner/spouses' careers do not suffer.
Nov 18, 2013 4:54PM
I raised two kids while working full time. I was fortunate in that I worked the 2nd shift so that my husband could take over. I still had sick days, snow days, school trips etc. It was just assumed back then it was more important for the Man to make it to work. Now I am the employer. I hire women with young children. I admit there are days when I could cry because of a mothers responsibilities, but I will continue to hire them. They get paid no less than a man.
Nov 18, 2013 3:34PM
Sometimes I think that all these "professionals" in all these equality fields never get together and talk shop.
Or are incapable of seeing outside their scope.

All we need is a the economic wizard talking about how stagnant wages are and have been over the past 20 years and suddenly it isn't such a surprise to see the gap hasn't narrowed as much.

Wages are down this article is flawed at best.  Women have made strides unfortunately it is also occurring while this countries economy is in the toilet.  Men still have the lions share of work experience period. 

You cannot regulate a economy to your liking when it is producing nothing more than more consumers

Nov 18, 2013 5:09PM

I think the 'x causes y' of this article is misinterpreted.  it makes more sense to say that if men make more money they have more kids or can support more kids, and if woman make more money they have less kids....


I come from a large family (10 kids).  I have 4 kids now and would like more, but know that my current salary would prevent me from having more kids.  If I earned more I would have more kids.


For woman I think it is probably the same situation but reversed.  If you have kids most woman can't support jobs that would earn them a lot of money due to time constraints at home and at work.  There probably are mothers with kids who have great jobs that make a lot of money but my opinion probably stands in most cases.  If in the family dynamic the man is the caretaker for the kids and works he probably would only be able to find a job that he could balance his time at work and at home and those jobs just don't pay a lot of money on average.


In my experience if you want to earn more money then usually the job requires more of your time and effort, families can get in the way of that.  Its always been a trade off for the main bread winner in the home.  Work more and earn more but less family/family time or more family/family time and work less and earn less.

Nov 18, 2013 4:43PM

Employers react to women and men differently.  When a woman wants a promotion, they are typically going to try to work hard and hopefully, their work will get noticed.  When a man wants a promotion, they ask for it.


If you have 2 workers who do the exact same work, in the exact same manner, with the same results, and only 1 asks for a promotion, you are probably going to give it to that person.  I'm not saying that men do a better job than women and I'm not saying that all women never speak up about raises/promotions.  I'm just saying that the typical communication method for most women is more passive and more direct for men.


Employers need to recognize when a woman is derserving of a raise or promotion, and women just need to speak up.


Because of the difference in communication methods, women get passed over for higher salaries, and thus, you have these studies painting a picture of the 1950's where women are still only ever able to become secretaries at the very best.  Granted some companies are like that, but from what I can tell, even in East Texas, most of the companies don't care what gender you are.

Nov 18, 2013 11:07PM
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