Motherhood and the Pay Gap

Studies show that, even in family~friendly countries like Sweden, the main reason for the gender pay gap is motherhood.  In other words, if a woman wants to keep up with men in the work world, she shouldn’t have children.

It’s illegal for an interviewer to ask women if they have children, but that doesn’t stop employers from assuming that they do. Even if a woman is childless, if she’s of child-bearing age, the mere possibility that she could have a child makes employees skittish about hiring or promoting her. The underlying (and insulting) assumption is that being a mother makes a woman a bad employee. She’s going to take off more time to care for sick children than a man will. She can’t work long hours because she has to pick the children up from day care. Her mind isn’t exclusively on her job (as if she can’t think about children and work at the same time). She’s not going to be as motivated to succeed because she puts her children first.

Employers don’t have the same assumptions about men who have children. Why not? Because we have all been socialized to expect that women are going to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to child care.

Before you start accusing me of being a “typical” feminist (meaning that I’m out to undermine the family), let me say that I know that many women intentionally stay out of the work force or put their careers on hold when they have children. Many women believe that a woman’s primary role in life is to bear and care for children. But does that mean that all women, mothers and non-mothers alike, should be penalized when they try to join or advance in the work world?

Conservatives scoff at working women’s complaints about the pay gap  because they contend that statistics show that mothers are less productive than non-mothers. But they stop short of asking themselves why that is or what could be done about it. They feel no obligation to accommodate workers who have children. “After all, having children was their choice; it has nothing to do with me.”  They refuse to look at the broader picture: our future depends on these children. Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to make sure they are cared for, raised in safety and security, and educated adequately?

The current administration has made noises about addressing some of these problems, but so far has done nothing. And knowing its  supposed disdain for government  intervention, I doubt that it ever will. Republicans are more concerned about tax and immigration reform and abolishing Obamacare than about the plight of working parents. In fact, I can’t think of one legislator who has made reforms like maternity and paternity leave, flex-time, job-sharing and affordable quality child care a priority. That’s why I’m a feminist: someone needs to be looking out for women in the work force.  And looking out for working mothers ensures that our nation’s children will be taken care of as well.