How does child bearing and rearing affect the salary gap between men and women?
November 23, 2008 8:43 PM   Subscribe

How does child bearing and rearing affect the salary gap between men and women?

I recently saw a salary survey of graphic designers which put the average salary for women at $69K and men at $76K.

Because they give birth and they're usually the primary care-givers for young children, women presumably accrue fewer years of experience than men. Assuming that, on average, the more experience, the more income, won't there always be a gap in average salaries between men and women? That is, until men and women equally share the sacrificed career time.

Bonus question: if you were to account for this difference in experience, what fraction of the salary do you think it would represent? That is, how much of the current salary gap can we chalk up to this phenomenon?
posted by dbarefoot to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Not all women have children. According to your theory (which attributes the wage gap solely to child-rearing and not discrimination, or women choosing other priorities instead of full-time work or promotions, or - a new trend among my friends - having to assume caretaker duties for their parents) the women without children should earn the same as men. The "average salary for women would then have the two extremes of women earning $76K and then another (child-rearing group) earning much less than 69k.
posted by saucysault at 9:28 PM on November 23, 2008

It depends a lot on the occupation. I've seen studies which show that in many professions, when time off for childbirth is factored out (say, by including only women who don't have kids), women in some fields earn *more* than men. More anecdotally, many human resources people I know believe that women are generally better and more productive workers than men, until childbirth and parenting enter the mix.

There's also the perception, which I'm sure has some percentage of truth to it, that women are more likely to take time off, leave early and/or not work as much overtime due to their kids than men are. Of course, there are exceptions.

I'm a woman without kids, and I'm doing as well or better than all of my male peers where I work. I've got female friends with kids who don't put in the time I do (for good reasons, I should add) and haven't received the same sort of raises and promotions I have. A couple of them complain a lot about this, but their work histories are checkered with missing time and slightly less than dependable work due almost entirely to their situations as parents.

Because they give birth and they're usually the primary care-givers for young children, women presumably accrue fewer years of experience than men. Assuming that, on average, the more experience, the more income, won't there always be a gap in average salaries between men and women?

I think so. Of course, women bear (no pun intended) more of the "sacrifice" by virtue of the physical act of pregnancy, recovery and all that. I think the way to look at it is to compare men and women in the same situations and look for inequities. I've never felt pay was unfair for women (generally speaking, at least here in America), and I've always considered pregnancy and entirely personal choice, and one which, if I were to make it, might be a blow to my career / salary path . . . but that's what personal choices are all about. If the Earth *needed* my children, then I might expect some extra consideration in this area. But guess what . . . the planet's okay without 'em.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:29 PM on November 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Saucysault - that's what studies do show, from what I've seen - women who work full-time without 'breaks' (for lack of a better term) for pregnancy and whatnot, basically do earn as much as men who do the same. Women who've left and come back earn drastically less, particularly if they've left and returned more than once. This is becoming *more* true, presumably as the older part of the workforce (which came entered into employment when expectations for women were lower, and when many women didn't even enter certain fields) is farmed out for retirement, thus skewing the results for the rest of the workforce much less.

I'd suspect that a 22 year-old woman who enters employment today and never leaves work to have kids or anything like that will make, over her lifetime, pretty much the same as any guy. And sexism / discrimination cuts both ways; in my field I've seen more guys I've suspected of getting the bad end of things than women.

There certainly is unfairness for women in one thing - they are still expected to be the caregivers more than men (with kids, their parents, anything else.) Still, this comes down to one's prior decisions, in large part.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:37 PM on November 23, 2008

I don't have a direct answer to your question, but Janeen Baxter and Mark Western have done a ton of research on this topic in Australia, much of which is available here:
posted by ads at 9:47 PM on November 23, 2008

@saucysault - Can you indicate where my theory "attributes the wage gap solely to child-rearing and not discrimination"? In a question about one factor influencing the salary gap, must I mention all possible factors that influence the salary gap?
posted by dbarefoot at 9:49 PM on November 23, 2008

Child bearing seems to me one of the primary reasons that women prefer employers with health care plans -- the plans cover themselves, maternity expenses and their children after all. I read a recent study that suggested that wage-gap analysis fails to account for health care.

In graphic design, this is entirely plausible. A male graphic designer may be more likely to pursue contract designs at a higher rate (and pursue insurance elsewhere), while a female may be anchored to an employment that covers health care. $5k per year seems about right for health insurance costs, and the rest is probably opportunity costs -- by restricting the kinds of jobs you take, you occasionally can't take a higher paying contract gig.

And of course, I can't say I trust random salary surveys. There's all kinds of bias problems.
posted by pwnguin at 10:14 PM on November 23, 2008

Say you have two people both earning $69k a year. In year one, the woman takes a year of mat leave. The man works at his paid job and receives a 3% salary increase at year end. The woman returns from mat leave. At the end of the year, they both receive 3% raises. The woman then takes one year off and the man continues working at his job and receives a 3% increase. This almost mirrors the difference in salaries you cited.

However, this assumes that all women take mat leaves, that they all have two children, that employers do not provide cost of living increases after the mat leave, that mat leaves last one year, etc. In the US, of course, mat leaves are much shorter than in Canada.

It also doesn’t account for all the part time workers and freelancers, many of whom are women managing businesses while raising children. Moreover, given $30k a year for daycare for two kids in Vancouver or $40k for a nanny, a parent who works part-time in a freelance business and avoids the need for daycare by working around the children’s schedules is actually effectively earning a six-figure income, given the tax situation and childcare costs (and reduce wardrobe/grooming costs, transportation, convenience costs, etc). So if you have enough women assuming primary caregiver responsibilities while working in freelance or part-time capacities, they may actually be netting more than a man or woman who works full-time but has to pay for childcare. Similarly, it may be that women opt for different kinds of benefits. For example, perhaps women prefer to work for employers who have onsite daycare, so that they can pump, breastfeed or reduce separation. They may choose employers who offer flex time, so that they can reduce emergency childcare needs or avoid the need for before/after school care. They may be willing to accept a slightly lower salary so that they can work from home one day a week and take elderly parents to appointments during their lunch breaks. A reduced need for baby formula, childcare, commuting, eldercare and so on may actually cut costs and effectively add to net income. Depending on the country involved, women may face higher healthcare costs and may thus stick with jobs that have better healthcare benefits.

So, if all women take two one-year breaks from the world of work and men only receive 3% annual increases during that time AND women bear the responsibility for many of the above described situations AND have higher healthcare costs BUT trade off for better tangible/intangible benefits, it may be that the women are making as much or even more than the men. As long as you don't consider increased workload/burdens. And this is assuming there isn't discrimination going on. and that all my caveats are possible.
posted by acoutu at 10:42 PM on November 23, 2008

@pwnguin Yeah, I don't trust salary surveys very much. Though I do consistently see a 10% to 20% gap in incomes between men and women. In any case, my question was more theoretical than specific to this survey.
posted by dbarefoot at 10:46 PM on November 23, 2008

dbarefoot - Your entire third paragraph, especially since you did not mention there may be other reasons. Sorry if I misread your question but you seemed to only consider child-rearing and I was pointing out the other possible factors for you to consider.

It would certainly be interesting to compare what the cost of different gaps in work experience would be. If a woman takes 10 weeks off work after birth does it cost her future earning as much as father taking 10 weeks off? Especially as it is becoming more common for men to take the time off. What if it is a year, how big of a gap is it between the two drops in income? Or what if an employee takes a year off to travel, or for an education not related to the job, would they take the same financial hit as someone who took parental leave? How much of the wage gap can be attributed to women's socialisation that "good girls don't ask for raises"? Any long-term data you study will be out of date, as the work experience of a women 30 years ago will be different from the work experience of a woman today where working women are the norm with more female managers and more awareness of the work-life balance.

The American Asscociation of University Women released a report last year that claimed women working one year after graduation earned less then men earned in the same field and the gap widened after ten years. "Controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors normally associated with pay, college-educated women still earn less than their male peers earn". Statcan has some interesting reports but I am too tired to go digging for them. I remember when the 2006 census was released last year there were some figures showing young women with university degrees were still underpaid but I don't knowi f it compared the same employment or just same education levels.

On a personal level, I have worked in my career for 12 years, I have taken nearly four of those years off for parental leaves, I have worked part-time for three of those years due to family commitments and I am still earning the same (or more) then the men I graduated with. And I earner higher than the average in my industry. Things are definitely changing in the work world.
posted by saucysault at 11:46 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's a book that addresses this question in quite some detail: Kidding Ourselves by Rhonda Mahony.
posted by meijusa at 7:28 AM on November 24, 2008

You're failing to account for caregiver discrimination once women do have kids, even if the mother and father equally split childrearing responsibilities (other than birth itself). Women who take time off during the work day to take care of their kids (e.g., doctors appointments and the like) are seen as unproductive shirkers placing family above work; men who do the same are seen as dedicated fathers and all-around solid citizens, and their dedication to their family is seen as making them more credible in the workplace.
posted by footnote at 7:32 AM on November 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I did a research paper on this topic last semester. I'll give a brief outline of my results and some of the other results I read about. But feel free to message me if you want to see my paper, or the other articles I read:

From the mid 90's until now womens' wages have remained at about 80% of mens' wages. This of course does not control for differences between men and women such as the difference in average years of education, or differences in the years of work experience. After controlling for factors such as these, most researchers have found that women still make approx. 5 - 15% less than men after controlling for factors such as these.

I used an Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition, which allows you to split the wage gap into two portions: the portion of the gap caused by differences in observables (such as years of education, or work experience), and the portion of the gap explained by differences in returns to those observables (i.e. do men and women receive difference rewards for each additional year of education).

In line with much of the research on the topic I controlled for the following (I will be the first to admit that there are other things I would have liked to control for, but were not included in this data set (NLSY79 10,000 randomly selected men and women interviewed every year))
-work experience
-current job tenure
-part time employment

The women had on average 50 fewer weeks of employment (out of 492 for the men), and 30 fewer weeks with their current employer (out of 200 for the men).

With this data set and this analysis I found that approximately half of the gender wage gap can be explained by the differences in work experience that men and women have. I can't prove what portion of this work experience gap is caused by child rearing, but I would imagine a significant portion.

On top of this, I found that women's wages decrease by approximately 1% with a single child, and 5% with multiple children, even after controlling for the other factors.

While these are the results of my own analysis, from looking at the published literature, these results are fairly closely in line with the general academic consensus.
posted by vegetableagony at 2:00 PM on November 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

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