The impact of motherhood on pay
On Sunday we celebrated mothers’ day, a day when we show our appreciation for the often unsung and uncelebrated hard work of mothers. Today, on International Women’s Day, the TUC has published research that finds mothers are not so valued in the workplace. In fact, the research confirms the existence of a motherhood pay penalty, even for some of those women who have returned to full-time work after having children.
IPPR has carried out an analysis for the TUC of the impact of motherhood on pay using the 1970 Birth Cohort Study. They compared the weekly earnings of mothers who are in full-time work at age 42 with women who had not had children and found that mothers were earning on average 11% less than the childless women. Even when you controlled for things like education and occupation, there was still a 7% motherhood pay penalty.
However, this motherhood pay penalty for full-time workers is entirely associated with mothers who had their first child earlier in life. The women who became mothers before 33 earned 15% less than similar women (i.e. those with similar levels of education and in similar occupations) by their early forties. By contrast, mothers whose first birth was at 33 or older experienced a wage bonus of 12% compared to similar women who hadn’t had children.
The women who had children later in life are still caring for young – pre-school or primary school age children – while working full time at age 42. Therefore, this group will include a higher proportion of women who managed to maintain continuity of employment through the transition to motherhood and for whom it made sense to return to full-time work when their children were under 5, for example, because their earnings significantly outstripped the costs of full-time childcare.
The women who had children under 33 and are in full-time work at 42 will have older secondary school age children and so this group is likely to include more women who had a significant period of time out of work or a period of part-time work when the children were young before returning to full-time work when their children were older. The rate of full-time work among mothers rises when the youngest child reaches secondary school age.
Aside from these differences in work histories, other research highlights differences in the treatment of younger and older mothers in the workplace. For example, the recent EHRC survey on pregnancy discrimination found that younger mothers are much more likely to report discrimination – a fifth said they were dismissed or were treated so badly that they were forced out of their jobs because of pregnancy or maternity leave, compared to 1 in 10 mothers overall.
A government survey of maternity returners also found that older mothers and those with longer service in their pre-birth job were more likely to return to work after maternity leave. Older mothers were also more likely to take longer maternity leave (something the EHRC research also confirms) and were more likely to receive occupational maternity pay from their employers. This suggests that as well as having stronger labour market attachment, women who are more senior by the time they have their first child are often more supported by their employers who seek to retain their skills and experience.
We should be clear the TUC does not want to get into the family planning business on the back of this research. What we do want to see is all women being supported and treated fairly in the workplace, regardless of the age at which they have their children or how senior they are at work. As Frances O’Grady commented “Women in full-time, well-paid jobs shouldn’t be the only ones able to become both parents and see their careers progress”.
Measures such as ensuring there is access to justice for all women who experience pregnancy or maternity discrimination and free childcare provision from the end of maternity leave, rather than age 3, would help. More free childcare would also help minimise the pay penalty for single mothers. Our analysis found that mothers who were single when they had their first child and are in full-time work by their early forties earn 12% less than similar mothers who were in a couple at birth. We know single mothers face significant barriers to paid work when their children are very young – single parents are still less than half as likely as couple parents to be in work when their children are under 5.
We must be very clear that this analysis has quantified the motherhood pay penalty for those mothers who are in full-time work at 42 but this is not the majority of mothers. Women remain the primary care-givers and they are still far more likely than men to reduce their working hours after having children. Over half of the mothers in this cohort (54%) were in part-time work in their early forties, compared to 13% of the childless women and just 3% of the fathers. These mothers experience an additional pay penalty associated with working part-time. According to ONS earnings statistics, women working part-time earn 32% less per hour than women in full-time work. Various studies have also shown that part-time work is associated with being stuck on low pay, many women take a lower skilled, part-time job after having children and there are very few good quality job opportunities being advertised with flexible or part-time work options (just 6% of those advertised with a full-time equivalent of £19,500 or more).
So more must be done to open up higher skilled, better paid jobs to flexible working or reduced hours. This would really help maintain mothers’ attachment to the labour market and it would enable more women in part-time roles to continue to progress. It would probably also help more women to eventually transition back into a better paid, full-time role once the demands of having young children ease off. IPPR research has shown that the UK does comparatively poorly on transitions from part-time to full-time work, particularly for women.
And, of course, more must be done to encourage fathers to play a more equal role in parenting too. The TUC will return to this issue when we publish the full research report on the impact of parenthood on pay later this year.
A very final point, the motherhood pay penalty compares the pay of mothers with similar women who haven’t had children. In the cohort of full-time men and women we looked at there was a significant gender pay gap of 33%. This was largely due to the impact of parenthood on pay. However, there was still a gender pay gap among those who hadn’t had children – the childless women earned 12% less than the childless men.