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The heavily discussed gender pay gap, often thought to be a fault of sexism in the workplace, now has a new culprit to blame: Motherhood.

 

Or more accurately, it’s the likelihood that a woman will become a mother. New York Times author Claire Cain Miller provides a keen insight, backed up by statistical data from research headed by Sari Kerr of Wellesley College, on how motherhood and marriage impact a woman’s career advancement.

When young women and men graduate from college, they are generally paid equally, but as women approach their child-bearing years, the divide becomes more apparent, especially for married women. Unmarried women in the same age bracket are typically paid the same as men. Married women, with or without children, are paid significantly less. Additionally, as they gain seniority and experience, women do not receive raises and promotions at the same rate of men within the same companies.

Why do young female professionals have to negotiate their earning potential against their reproductive viability?

The main cause is how we are conditioned to perceive women of marriageable, child-bearing age as being less committed to an employer, but such an assumption doesn’t hold well to scrutiny when you examine the choices put before women in this demographic. For much of their working lives, they are expected to compromise personal career goals for husbands and family.

The big reason that having children, and even marrying in the first place, hurts women’s pay relative to men’s is that the division of labor at home is still unequal, even when both spouses work full time…It is logical for couples to decide that the person who earns less, usually a woman, does more of the household chores and child care…But it’s also a reason women earn less in the first place. “That reinforces the pay gap in the labor market, and we’re trapped in this self-reinforcing cycle,” [Ms.Kerr] said.

Data shows women stagnate in jobs they are overqualified for or give up job opportunities to move for their husband’s job. Married women without children are also found to take less intense jobs, on the pretense of having children sometime in the near future.

So, how are women in the work place going to fix this? Not getting married or having children seems like an unfair solution. Getting married and having children should not penalize women in the work place. Social scientists say that changes in the work place need to take place to avoid this problem. These changes will have to incorporate new policies that put less of a priority on working long hours, and the government providing subsidized childcare would be helpful. But the greater question seems to be whether government intervention will be enough to disrupt the attitudes and cultural expectations of employers to ensure more equitable salaries.

Maybe it’s better to end on a joke. Here’s comedienne Ali Wong’s take on career aspirations:

AUTHOR: NEED/DONE Team
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