Why We Talk about Equal Pay on Father’s Day

A man and woman snuggle with their baby.

Image by Bill Selak, Flickr Creative Commons

June 19, 2015

On Father’s Day, we at AAUW celebrate the many things fathers do to help their daughters achieve. But we can’t help but also remember how gender stereotypes about parenthood make things harder for working families — and how bias affects different men and women differently if they have children.

Researchers have found that many fathers receive a wage premium of 4–6 percent for each child. Employers tend to perceive fathers as more committed, stable, and effective employees and pay them accordingly. Unfortunately these expectations do not extend to most mothers or even to all fathers.

Alexandra Killewald of Harvard University has found that married fathers who live with their kids experience a wage premium of 4 percent for every child, with smaller or no benefits for fathers who live apart from their children or adopt children. There are also differences by race/ethnicity and type of occupation. In a study by University of Massachusetts researcher Michelle Budig, the largest fatherhood bonuses went to white or Latino men who were highly educated and in professional or managerial jobs, while the smallest bump went to African American fathers.

The wage story is even worse for mothers. Motherhood is more likely than fatherhood to lead to fewer hours worked or other career interruptions. But the motherhood penalty, as researchers have dubbed it, goes beyond the time spent out of the workforce.

In a statistical analysis, Budig found a motherhood wage penalty of 7 percent per child. Even after accounting for differences in human capital (job experience, seniority, education, and job turnover) and a large number of family-friendly job characteristics (access to part-time work, safe working environments, ability to bring children on site, and more), researchers still found an average wage penalty of 4 percent per child.  And while the fatherhood bonus goes disproportionately to men who are at the top of the labor market, the motherhood penalty is largest for women who are the most economically vulnerable. Only women in the top 10 percent of wage earners are not penalized for motherhood.

Additionally, experimental research by Stanford University sociologist Shelley Correll demonstrates potential bias against mothers in the hiring and evaluation processes. Correll found in a laboratory experiment that when presented with résumés differing only in one item (parent-teacher association involvement, which implies parenthood), participants acting as employers judged mothers to be less competent and less committed to work and subsequently were less likely to recommend mothers for hire, promotion, or management and offered them lower starting salaries. When the same résumés were sent to actual employers, child-free women received 2.1 times as many callbacks as mothers. Fathers in the experiment, in contrast, were rated as more committed than child-free men and were offered higher starting salaries.

As President Obama reminded us in 2014, Father’s Day is a time to acknowledge the importance of fathers in our lives but also to ensure that our workplace policies provide all families with the chance to succeed. Today 40 percent of households with children under the age of 18 have a woman as the sole or primary breadwinner, and nearly two-thirds of mothers bring home more than a quarter of their family’s earnings. Join AAUW in the fight for fair pay to ensure a secure financial foundation for all families.

This post was written by AAUW Research Intern Jean DeOrnellas.

AAUW Intern By:   |   June 19, 2015

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