Study Finds Women's Earning Potential Peaks At 35

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

By Paula Rosenberg

READ MORE: FMLA, Maternity leave, Parental leave, Workplace, Google, Linkedin, Microsoft, Netflix, Pay gap, Wage gap, Working moms, Yahoo!, Facebook, Instagram, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

We like to think that the glass ceiling is shattering and in some ways it is. When entering the workforce, women are earning just as much if not more than their male counterparts. Where pay discrepancy still shows up is with mid- or senior-level professionals. A recent study in the UK found that once women hit 35 their male peers start earning considerably more than they do. What is even more disheartening is that gap widens every year. According to the study, by the time a woman hits 40 her male counterpart is earning about $2.50 more per hour.

One might look at these figures and assume its because men end up moving on to careers in fields with higher earning potentials. However, that doesn't appear to be the case. Women over 40 were paid on average 35% less than men who have the same role across positions in a variety of sectors. So why is there this pay discrepancy between women and men as they hit their career stride?

One explanation is that women tend to perform better at school and are more likely to pursue higher education immediately following high school than men. This factors into women earning more when it comes to entry level positions. What accounts for this flip in pay scale mid-career? One hypothesis is that employers still tend to give a higher percentage of raises, bonuses and promotions to male employees even though that may be due to unconscious bias. At some companies women sense a stigma towards them even if they return to work after having a baby. There can also be perceptions that new moms aren't as ambitious or dedicated to their careers as they were pre-parenthood.

Is there a way to solve this mid and senior level pay inequity? Many experts believe the key to solving this problem is for employers to allow more flexibility in the workplace to parents. This isn't just about allowing moms to have more control over their schedules. True equality means allowing fathers more paternal leave and reign over their hours so the parental responsibilities can be shared. Studies have shown that working moms' earning potentials tend to continue to increase when their partners are able to take benefits like paternity leave.

In some countries strides are being taken in this direction. Many European countries offer paid paternity leave, and countries that offer significantly more time off for new parents allow partners the flexibility to split that time between each other. While the United States doesn't mandate that paid parental leave needs to be given and protected maternity leave is only twelve weeks under FMLA, more companies are jumping on board with the notion of not just offering job-protection during maternity leave, but also fully-paid maternity leave.

The Fairygodboss community has crowdsourced maternity leave benefits at thousands of companies and our members have named almost 100 companies that offer well above the 12 weeks standard unpaid maternity leave required under FMLA. Law firms appear to be leading the charge with some firms such as Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Debevoise & Plimpton offering upwards of 20 weeks maternity leave. Companies in the technology industry also appear to be generous in their policies. Netflix just announced unlimited maternity leave, Microsoft announced a 20 week maternity leave, and you'll see in our database that Google is reported to give 18 weeks, Instagram 17 and Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Pinterest all offer 16 weeks.

While its great to see more organizations improving their policies when it comes to parental leave, its unfortunate that pay equality doesn't seem to continue for so many women past their mid thirties. However knowing what benefits to look for and finding companies that will allow you the flexibility you need can help you stay ahead of the curve on benefits that amount to pretty important compensation.

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