We often hear that women make 79 cents to every dollar men make; it’s undeniable that the gender pay gap exists. However, according to research, the pay gap between college-educated women and men widens substantially between the ages of 26 and 33.
When college-educated women enter the workforce, they make 90 percent as much as men by the age of 25. Yet, by the time women are 45, they make 55 percent as much as men. It’s pretty clear that the wage gap widens right around the time professional women tend to have children.
What develops is a feedback loop: one that keeps women from earning the same wage as men. Women perpetually earn less than their male counterparts. Over the course of their careers, college-educated men will earn 77 percent more than their starting salary, while women tend to only earn 31 percent more.
Women are generally given fewer opportunities when an employer thinks she might have children and also when she becomes pregnant. The division of labor at home is still unequal, even for couples who strive for an egalitarian relationship. The person who earns less usually does more chores, typically a woman because of the described stigma above. Women may work less once they have children, but they don’t stop working altogether.
Taking necessary time out of work for unpaid maternity leave or to raise children results in an immediate loss of wages. It also has the long-term loss of retirement or pension contributions. A colleague based in New York City who works in education weighs in:
“I learned that the Department of Education has a one child, one leave policy — so when my friend who is married to another teacher was pregnant, it meant that she took leave, but her husband couldn't. She used all her sick days and had pay cut from her summer pay. This cut in pay also affects the time one is putting in towards one's pension, etc. I think it is an example of how misguided policies and lack of leave put women and men in really different financial situations... even when they are married and in the same position in the same organization!”
Yes, you read that right. A married couple works for the same organization and, due to their parental leave policy, the mother will lose wages, pension contributions and retirement while her partner (who’s not allowed to take a leave) doesn't lose all those assets.
These issues are worrisome, not only to women with children but also women who are planning to have a family in the future. Another colleague in New York City comments:
“It weighs on my mind all the time that as the more steady income in my family I could be risking our continued future stability by having kids. (And I work for a pretty pro-motherhood company.) If my husband's and my careers were flipped, the decision would be completely different (not without challenges — but different challenges!) and that's problematic.”
Since this woman provides the more consistent income for her household, she’s concerned what it would mean for her family's stability if she were to get pregnant.
While the gender wage gap is concerning, there are a couple proposed antidotes from social scientists. These include encouraging companies to place less priority on “face time” and long hours in the office, for the government to provide paid parental leave of a moderate length and subsidized childcare.
Jennifer Mayer supports parents through pregnancy, birth, new parenthood and the transition back to work. She's the founder of Baby Caravan, a birth & postpartum doula agency and Baby Caravan at Work, a corporate consulting practice based in New York City. Jennifer lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.