Want to become a mother? Prepare to sacrifice 3% of your wage

‘Motherhood penalty’ adds up to 3% per hour per child - but men don’t suffer the same hit

First there was the gender pay gap; now there is also a tough financial penalty for becoming a mother – about 3 per cent of your hourly pay.

Research from Université Paris-Saclay has shown women who are mothers get paid about 3 per cent less per child than their female counterparts who are childfree, dubbed the "motherhood penalty".

But men who father children do not suffer the same financial penalty, according to the research, which was compiled from data supplied by organisations in the French private sector between 1995 and 2011.

The study, which was carried out by Director of Graduate Studies at engineering and statistics school ENSAE Lionel Wilner, took account of other factors, including full and part time work, and found the effect was found to be more pronounced after women had their first child.


Among the factors blamed for the motherhood penalty were human capital depreciation – the measure of the economic value of an employee’s skill set – and discrimination against mothers at work. Mothers were also less likely to receive bonuses if they were allocated roles with less risky assignments, meaning they also risked being trapped in low-wage roles.

Unfair and inefficient

“Gender inequalities persist within households, in terms of the share of domestic work or bargaining power, but they also persist within firms,” said Mr Wilner. “The gender pay gap, occupational gender segregation and the glass ceiling are the most striking examples – but an obvious example of gender inequality is related to childbirth. The motherhood penalty accounts for noticeable hourly wage differences following childbirth.”

He described it as “unfair and inefficient”, calling for public intervention, including campaigns against discrimination, development of on-the-job childcare, and extension of paternity leave.

“A paternity leave of the same duration as maternity leave would bring down this gender gap,” he said.

While men do not experience the same loss after becoming a father, benefits suggested by previous research were also absent, according to the study, indicating that any “fatherhood premium” had disappeared.

In 2015, the average pay gap between men and women was 16 per cent, even in situations where women are more qualified, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Research published by PwC earlier this year showed the pay gap between men and women in Ireland widened between 2012 and 2015, increasing by 6.5 percentage points.

That puts Ireland in 25th place on an international league table of overall female economic empowerment. Things have improved slightly; in 2000, the median pay gap between men and women was 19.7 per cent compared with 14.8 per cent in 2015. But in 2012, it hit a low of 8.3 per cent, before starting to climb a again.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist