Study Shows That Moms Earn Less Than Other Working Women

A recently-released study conducted by the University of New Mexico shows that working moms make up to 14 percent less in wages than do other working women. While we have long known about the wage gap between men and women, and although there have long been cases of discrimination towards mothers in the workplace, this study reflects the first documentation of a pay disparity in recent decades.

The study excluded stay-at-home moms and focused in on women who hold jobs and have children, even if these children are of middle school or high school age. The findings show that the wage gap between moms and other women falls somewhere in the 7 to 14 percent range. Any number within that zone would qualify as statistically significant.

How can we explain this disparity? Unless women without kids are simply donating eggs and profiting in that regard, there must be some outside factor at work. Does the wage gap arise out of self-selection, in that moms choose to pursue lower-paying careers so that they can devote more time and energy to their kids? Does it come out of a bias against pregnant women or a belief that a mother won’t be able to handle a high paying job or a demanding promotion? Or is something else going on altogether?

The researchers at the University of New Mexico asked themselves all these questions and structured their models to address each one. The result? Almost every variable considered had a positive impact of some sort on the overall equation. This means that, yes, moms do self-select to a degree and choose jobs that pay less. And yes, a subtle bias against working moms prompts hiring managers to pass them over for jobs and promotions, on either a conscious or subconscious level. Other factors involved include: working moms are more likely to get a strong second income from their husbands, childless women get promoted faster because they don’t take maternity leaves, and the lack of benefits offered by part-time work makes it a poor substitute for full-time employment, even on a relative scale.

For the sake of working moms and society as a whole, we can only hope that this wage gap narrows over time. Just as with the gap between male and female workers, it has been a long time coming.

This is a Guest Post written by Sam Peters, who enjoys writing about career and job related topics.


  1. Teresa E. says

    Interesting. I’m sure moms get paid less sometimes by choice (type of job as stated in the article) and sometimes not. When I worked I KNOW I was paid less but not by choice. It was partly my own ignorance and partly my company’s HR department. During my time there I took two maternity leaves and I didn’t know that when I returned to work, I was entitled to any living allowance and performance review raises. I just figured I couldn’t get those because I had not worked for the previous year. What performance is there to review, right? So I was still getting paid the same amount as when I was hired. Yes, my own fault for not inquiring but also think the HR department should have been more on top of things. That’s THEIR job. I’m still bitter about it. It was thousands of dollars of lost income for me. I don’t know if most working moms know the laws surrounding maternity leave and wages upon return to work. I didn’t but I sure learned.

  2. Pam@IW says

    Teresa E.,
    That is really disappointing. I agree that the HR department should have kept on top of that and kept you informed.
    I do think there are women out there that do choose to pursue lower paying careers when their family has already been started for the obvious reasons of working hours that fit in with having a family and not having to put in 60 hour weeks.
    For the most part though, I think young women pick their career first without really thinking how it will impact their life when they have children.

  3. says

    Teresa E., that is very disappointing to hear. Working in HR, I cringe hearing your story. But it’s good of you to get it out there. We all need to be our own best advocates. I appreciate when employees question me on certain policies/procedures – keeps me on my game!
    This was an interesting article. Hopefully, we will continue to see the pay gap between genders shrink, but I have the feeling there will always be one. For most women, once you have children, your priorities do change. Children come first and the role of primary caretaker is and probably will continue to be the mother.

  4. Jennie@IW says

    I wonder if the solution (at least partially) is not so much working mothers coming up to par with non-mothers, but working fathers bearing more of the burden for child-rearing, which would allow the working mothers more professional development, etc.

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