Apparently it really pays to not have kids. Moms earn up to 14% less than women who don’t have children, says a recent University of New Mexico study. According to Professor Kate Krause of the University of New Mexico, this is happening because pregnant women or women with young children still face a lot of discrimination in the professional world. She told NPR:
“I mean you would be shocked what we hear when pregnant women announce their pregnancies and are told or what are we going to do about that? I mean that is still out there alive and well. But, of course, there’s much more subtle stereotyping about new mother’s competence and commitment that’s going on in the workplace. You know, we often see women returning from maternity leave who are given less work or dead end assignments. And this type of discrimination really drags down wages for women because they get off track, and even worse off and pushed out of the workforce.”
Krause talked about women who work part-time who face a documented wage and benefit penalty. The penalties associated with part-time work in the U.S. are actually seven times higher as they are in Sweden and the UK, and this affects workers across the economic spectrum, but we see low-wage workers especially hard hit with little if no benefits and with pretty much no with documented wage penalties.
And even though more women are working later into their pregnancies than ever before and coming right back after maternity leave, employers are still very weary of pregnant women, especially those that look like they will be having more kids. Dawn Porter, an attorney, former television executive and founder of Trilogy Films, said in an interview with NPR that she understood why employers get weary of pregnant women. She said:
“If you look at the time when young women are having children, it is a very sensitive time in their careers. It is when they’re in their late 20s, 30s, that’s the time when the employers are really looking to who are our superstars, right? Who are we going to bet the farm on? And if you look like you have a commitment to anything other than getting ahead in getting – making your workplace number one, you know, there – I think there often is some hesitancy in giving you the plum assignments and that affects women more I think than it does affect men.”
According to a recent survey, half of childless women over 30 look at stay-at-home mothers and think it will be difficult for them to get back on the career ladder and a fifth believe they’ve lost their identity. Meanwhile 26% admit they are fearful of the effect motherhood would have on their career. As harsh as all these percentages sound, this mode of thinking makes sense when you think about the number of studies and stories we hear about women struggling to get back on their career path after children enter the picture. Some other interesting stats from the survey showed that their is a lot of animosity between working mothers and their childless colleagues.
What can help women who do plan to have families is to make yourself as invaluable as possible before you leave. As Sheryl Sandberg often says to young women, “Don’t leave before you leave.” In a recent interview Sheryl said, “Women need to start out their careers with the assumption that they are going to stay in,” she said. Even if later on they do drop out for personal reasons, you shouldn’t go into your career thinking you will. “When you’re in the law firm don’t think don’t even know if I want to be a partner because I might want kids someday. No. Just assume you want to be a partner. Keep your foot on the gas pedal,” said Sheryl.
Dina Bakst, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance, an organization that advocates for working families, said we also need to address unfair pay in the workplace and strengthen our equal pay laws. “There’s still a blanket of secrecy around pay in this country and workers are penalized for sharing salary information. And, you know, we can’t enforce our equal pay laws in a vacuum, so that’s critically important that we open up and people can understand if they’re being paid fairly or not,” she told NPR. We also need to make supportive work-family policies a priority because those are key to keeping women on track and that will play a role in helping to narrow the wage gap. A recent study out of Rutgers, which was commissioned by the National Partnership for Women and Families, shows that paid family leave increases wages for women and increases their attachment to the labor force.