An interesting new twist on the effects of children on the pay gap between men and women. It has long been argued that having kids is one reason for the gap in pay between men and women but now a new study suggests that women who have their first child before 25 or after 35 eventually close the salary divide with their husbands. It’s the years in between that are most problematic.
Today, married couples in the United States are likely to have similar educational and career backgrounds. So while the typical husband still earns more than his wife, spouses have increasingly similar incomes. But that changes once their first child arrives.
Immediately after the first birth, the pay gap between spouses doubles, according to a recent study — entirely driven by a drop in the mother’s pay. Men’s wages keep rising. The same pattern shows up in a variety of research.
The new twist in the research is to point out that,
When women have their first child between age 25 and 35, their pay never recovers, relative to that of their husbands. Yet women who have their first baby either before 25 or after 35 — before their careers get started or once they’re established — eventually close the pay gap with their husbands.
One explanation is that the modern economy requires time in the office and long, rigid hours across a variety of jobs — yet pay gaps are smallest when workers have some control over when and where work gets done. In high-earning jobs, hours have grown longer and people are expected to be available almost around the clock. In low-earning jobs, hours have become much less predictable, so it can be hard for working parents to arrange child care.
The issue, in general, comes down to time. Children require a lot of it, especially in the years before they start school, and mothers spend disproportionately more time than fathers on child care and related responsibilities. This seems to be particularly problematic for women building their careers, when they might have to work hardest and prove themselves most, and less so for women who have already established some seniority or who have not yet started careers.
So it may not just be having kids that matters for the pay gap, but when you have them matters as well.