Wage Penalty for Mothers: A Scholarly Article

“The Wage Penalty for Motherhood” is an article written by Michelle J. Budig and Paula England. These two scholars take Waldfogel’s 1997 study and build upon it arguing that there is a discernible penalty that deters women from earning as much as men in their field because of the role they assume as mothers. Waldfogel’s study showed that between 1968 and 1988, women were penalized by 6% if they had one child and up to 15% for more than two children(204). Budig and England posit four possible reasons this “motherhood penalty” is occurring not only in the United States but also in the United Kingdom and Germany (205). I say possible because they use this opportunity to show that these reasons are null and void. The reasons follow:

  1. loss of job experience: when women leave the workforce to be in charge of children, they lose job experience. When they return to work, they have already lost anywhere from 5-10 years of experience. They claim that there is no substantial evidence that this may be a reason mothers are penalized in terms of their absence from work.
  2. be less productive at work: apparently mothers aren’t as productive at work because they are reserving all their energy for when they pick up the kids from school. Hmmmm. Interesting. Using the human capital theory, mothers are compared to non-mothers, who are apparently getting more than mothers because they spend more time participating in leisure activities after work than caring for rowdy kids.Here our authors posit that no studies have measured the productivity levels of mothers to non-mothers to validate such a theory. Next….
  3. choose mother-friendly or part-time jobs over higher wage positions: mothers may decline full-time positions with higher pay for jobs that offer flexible schedules, no traveling, no weekend work days, and so on. They refute this argument by referring to a study conducted by Glass and Camarigg in 1992, which showed that men’s full-time jobs offered the same benefits of “mother-friendly” jobs and yet men’s wages are not penalized.
  4. mothers are discriminated against by employers: this is the last reason posited and the one that Budig and England stand behind. Employers penalize mothers, assuming that they won’t put in the work, they will be tired or distracted from the second job they have at home, or they will leave in order to have more children. Therefore, they are not taken seriously, compensated fairly, or assigned privilege in the workforce.

This is gravely unfair — contributing to issues of gender inequality — for men are not penalized when they become fathers. After all, they can be distracted and fatigued from their role as fathers. Studies go as far as to show that in some areas, men are paid more after they become fathers. They get all the benefits when they become fathers, but women are sacrificed in the home and outside of it. In then end, this wage penalty affects women’s pension and retirement, for they don’t have as much income with which to survive when they reach retirement age. This also contributes to the pay gap among single mothers and men as head of households among the poor, as well as to the power struggle women face if married, for he who makes more money, often has the privileged voice. And even though this is a dated article, I will find a more updated one, I guarantee the issues continue to prevail as they did in the late 90s.

Food for thought.

What do you think? What have been your experiences as moms going back to work, working part-time, or being a working mom?

Work Cited

Budig, Michelle J. and Paula England. “The Wage Penalty for Motherhood.” American Sociological Review 66.2 (Apr.,2001):204-225. JSTOR. Web. 14 Apr. 2012


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