By Valerie Mickiewicz, JWI Executive Associate & Library Project Coordinator
My 18-year-old college student self never thought about the future beyond a looming paper deadline or a Friday night party with friends. My now 21-year-old working woman self got a rude awakening after graduation when I had to plan for the years ahead. Not only do I have student loan debt, dozens of bills, and retirement to save for, but I also realized I had to choose between working for fair wages and having a family one day.
The persistent wage gap women experience is attributable to not only gender, but also parenthood. Studies on wage differences by gender have found that roughly half of the observed 20 percent gender wage gap cannot be explained by usual factors that determine wages such as experience, occupation, or hours worked. In fact, even among female workers with comparable qualifications, education, and hours of experience, there is evidence that having children reduces women’s earnings even further.
After further research, I was astounded to learn that childless women earn 93 cents of a childless man’s dollar while mothers earn only 60 cents of a father’s dollar. Many Americans believe the common argument for this pay discrepancy: Women are more likely to exit the workforce to care for families and accept lower earnings for more family-friendly jobs.
But this is not truly a choice; many women feel pressure to accept lower wages because otherwise, they risk not earning money at all. In addition, sociologist Shelley Correll found that after reviewing resumes that differed only in noting parental status, subjects in an experiment systematically rated childless women and fathers significantly higher than mothers on competency, work commitment, promote-ability, and recommendations for hire, demonstrating a negative stigma attached to motherhood in business.
As a women’s studies major at the University of Maryland, I learned the statistics and heard testimonials from women not earning their fair pay, but the inequity takes a new light when you experience it firsthand. Although the Paycheck Fairness Act failed to move forward in the Senate, we will narrow the wage gap by continuing to fight for fair legislation and policies for all women, especially mothers.