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The Wage Gap Is Wider for Working Mothers

A woman and her daughter using a laptop at home.

​Mothers in the U.S. who work full time are paid an average of 69 cents for every $1 a father makes, or $18,000 less annually, according to the National Women's Law Center's (NWLC) analysis of U.S. Census data.

Referred to as the "motherhood penalty," this wage gap is wider than the one between men and women in general in the U.S. The financial loss mothers experience is greater in some states and for women of color who are mothers.

In Louisiana and Utah, for example, mothers who work full time are paid 59 cents and 61 cents, respectively, for every dollar fathers make. Latina mothers are paid just 46 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers.

The discrepancy stems, in part, from the fact that men tend to work in more highly paid occupations—even though companies can benefit from the leadership skills new mothers develop. Other factors: Women take time off to rear their children. Supervisors may assume a mother would not be interested in a promotion to a higher-paying job that involves travel or long hours. Men often feel pressure not to take parental leave.

Organizations "will continue to struggle with a lack of female leadership in the C-suite if workplace norms around parental leave continue to reinforce the message that women are the primary caretakers and men should place work over their parental responsibilities," said Teresa Hopke, CEO of Talking Talent.

SHRM Online has collected the following articles on the motherhood penalty from its archives and other sources.

How Big Is the Wage Penalty for Mothers?

A new academic working paper tries to measure the so-called motherhood penalty, defined as the amount by which women's earnings fall compared with their earnings a year before giving birth. It includes the nonexistent earnings of women who give up work entirely.

It found that the motherhood penalty exists in all six countries studied but varies greatly in size.

(The Economist)

The Parent Penalty

Seventy-two percent of working parents in the U.S. agree that women are penalized in their careers for starting families, according to a report from child care provider Bright Horizons. Men aren't penalized as severely, but they can still face backlash.

(SHRM Online

Women's Earnings Drop After Having A Child—but Men's Do Not

Many factors drive the gender pay gap, but one of the most common explanations is the so-called "motherhood penalty," or the way that women's earnings are negatively impacted by raising children, while men's earnings are not.

Many gender equality advocates believe public policies like paid parental leave and public child care could help relieve some of the negative impact that motherhood has on women's earnings, but new research finds that women's earnings are still negatively impacted by having kids in countries where these policies exist.


[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Develop and Administer Paid Leave Programs] 

The Motherhood Penalty: Why We're Losing Our Best Talent to Caregiving

New research supports that the "motherhood penalty" is real: The latest Bright Horizons' annual Modern Family Index found that:

  • 69 percent of working Americans say working moms are more likely to be passed up for a new job than other employees,
  • 60 percent say career opportunities are given to less qualified employees instead of working moms who may be more skilled.
  • 72 percent of both working moms and dads agree that women are penalized in their careers for starting families, while men are not



​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.