A new report published by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that women with minor children earn less than women without kids. Experts are calling it the “mommy penalty” but I’m not buying it. The situation is far more complicated than the bottom line.
First of all, we’re not comparing apples with apples. The mothers I know, like myself, have taken time off of work altogether to raise their children or have switched jobs to accommodate more flexible schedules. If someone goes to a smaller company to work an environment where 15-hour days are the norm, they can expect to get paid less. This would apply equally to a man and a woman. Yet some are still calling foul.
“I think parenthood is like the new site of gender discrimination,” said Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Budig’s research has shown that women generally make less money for each child they have and puts forward some theories as to why.
Mothers may earn less than other women because having children causes them to (1) lose job experience, (2) be less productive at work, (3) trade off higher wages for motherfriendly jobs, or (4) be discriminated against by employers. The portion of the motherhood penalty we cannot explain probably results from effects of motherhood on productivity and/or from employers’ discrimination against mothers. While the benefits of mothering diffuse widely, to the employers, neighbors, friends, spouses, and children of the adult who previously received the mothering, the costs are borne disproportionately by mothers.
Men, on the other hand, are more likely to see an earnings boost — men with minor children out-earn their childless counterparts according to Budig’s research — sometimes referred to as the daddy bonus. Eyeroll.
I’m not rolling my eyes at the cutesy terms and I’m not really discounting the findings. However, what I challenge is the motivation. This research would have us believing that employers are looking at these people, sitting from high above, deciding that “yes, daddies are more worthy and deserve more of my money,” while mommies are inferior by nature and should earn less. I just don’t see it that way in America where everything is driven by the bottom line. If a father has a family to support and is the primary (or only) breadwinner, he is going to work harder. He will be seen as more stable and more dependable by his employer because he will be afraid of losing his job and his means to support his family, especially when compared to his single counterpart. As far as I can tell they don’t compare fathers to mothers, only mothers to childless and fathers to childless.
All of this underscores my biggest issues around the U.S. workplace — that money is the number one indication of success or value and the number of hours worked determines your value to your employer — making work-life balance elusive for anyone (parent or not) who wants to pursue it.