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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But it's going to be hard for them to support themselves for such a long life. Mothers, it turns out, are the big losers in the workplace and the most at risk as they age. And there's going to be a lot of them. By 2050, the population of persons 60 or over in the world will have more than doubled, exceeding the proportion of children under l5.

But the mommy gap is not inevitable. In countries such as Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries that have job protection legislation, paid maternity leave and policies promoting flexible work hours, there is no such gap; in countries such as ours, where such job protection legislation is minimal, the gap is relatively large.

The demographics alone argue that it's of the utmost importance to close the gap, to expand maternity and paternity leaves, initiate job protection policies, expand good, affordable child care, institute more family-friendly policies and to use tax policy and private-public partnerships to support today's dominant family form: the dual-earner couple.

The alternative could be an army of women who have outlived their financial resources and must either be left to fend for themselves or be supported by public charity. Neither of the latter scenarios seems to make economic sense.

Rosalind Chait Barnett of Harvard and Brandeis and Caryl Rivers of Boston University are the authors of "She Works, He Works," (Harvard University Press.) They are at work on a new book on the future of the sexes.

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