Commentary

Wage Gap for Working Mothers May Cost Billions

Monday, July 3, 2000

New studies indicate that while wage gaps between women and men in entry-level jobs are slight, working mothers are paid 70 cents for every dollar that men receive. For childless women, the gap is 10 cents on the dollar.

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Co-Author Caryl Rivers

Recently, the conservative American Enterprise Institute announced the virtual death of the gender gap in wages--citing entry-level figures. At that level, women make 98 percent of what men do. But the institute failed to announce that it was only comparing the salaries of young workers.

Moreover, new research indicates that another ominous crevice may be opening.

The "mommy gap."

Today, the gap in hourly wages between women with and without children is greater than the gap between men and women.

While the hourly wages of women without children are roughly 90 percent of men's hourly wages, the comparable figure for women with children is 70 percent.

When hourly wages of new employees are compared, the gender gap is very narrow. But by the age when most women begin having children, the birth of these kids penalizes women by roughly 20 percent. Among mothers, those who have more than one child, or who are black, or single, pay an even larger family penalty than married white women with only one child.

This mommy gap has come to light through new, sophisticated research on the gender gap, including the work of Jane Waldfogel at Columbia University.

This new gender gap in wages takes a huge toll on American families. Noted economist Heidi Hartmann and her colleagues report that American families lose a staggering $200 billion annually to the wage gap--an average loss of more than $4,000 each for working women's families every year.

This mommy gap is going to affect a huge number of women, researchers note.

For example, as of 1996, 56.6 percent of all children had mothers in the labor force, as did 68.4 percent of children 6 through 17. For the latter group, 75 percent of mothers are working full time. The overwhelming majority of women with kids of all ages are working full time.

And while we as a society give lip service to support for working families, the true picture is grim.

A new study of 11,815 managers by researchers at the City University of New York found that leaves of absence were associated with fewer promotions and smaller salary increases. And since 89 percent of the managers taking leaves were women, there is a consistent pattern of women slipping further behind.

For those who argue that women belong at home, while men do the breadwinning, the trends in men's employment are not encouraging.

Men's wages have been stagnant or declining for two decades, and the life-long, well-paid industrial job that was so common 30 years ago is rapidly vanishing. And since more companies than ever before are down-sizing (615,000 pink slips in l998, more than the previous high in 1993), families that depend on one income could fall into financial chaos.

New figures on longevity illustrate how the gap will affect women in the long term.

The National Center for Health Statistics says that the life expectancy of the average woman at birth today is eighty years. That number is expected to jump to 83 for babies born in the year 2010. (Some demographers have even estimated that one in three white baby girls born today will live for a century.) And for women who survive to age 65, the chances are that they will live for another 19.5 years.

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