THE PERSISTENT MOTHERHOOD PENALTY
Despite having raised their educational and skill levels, mothers still face a motherhood penalty: they have lower incomes than women without children, says UMass Amherst Professor of Sociology and Public Policy Joya Misra.
The surprising findings by Misra and two colleagues were published recently by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Misra, widely recognized as an expert in gender studies; Eunjung Jee, doctoral student in economics; and Marta Murray-Close, economist with the U.S. Census Bureau, found that the motherhood penalty persists even as mothers have significantly improved opportunities for economic advancement. “That should make the motherhood penalty a lot smaller,” says Misra.
The motherhood penalty continues despite the narrowing of the gender gap. “As the gender gap has closed, we were hoping to see the motherhood penalty getting smaller over time, instead we found it has just held steady for mothers with two or more children, while the penalty for a woman with one child has actually increased,” she explains.
The trio of researchers made an essentially airtight case for their conclusion that motherhood leads to lower incomes by using rich data from labor market studies in three time periods between 1986 and 2014 and testing a variety of models. Misra says, “When we control for age, job, and experience and education, it appears that the big driver for gender gap is about parenthood.”
Misra began to research gender inequalities in the 1990s, when gender scholarship was a fledgling focus area in economics, taking an academic risk as she worked on her dissertation. After decades as a comparative political economist, she sees a fix for the motherhood penalty: family-friendly policies such as extended paid parental leave and universal and accessible government-supported child care.