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Marina Gask-Ajani
December 2016.
124
I’m 35 and I’ve taken five years out of my career to be a mother to two children. Will I ever make up the pay differential?
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Unfortunately the answer is no – if you return to work full-time after five years you are very unlikely to make up the difference. The overall gender pay gap has changed significantly since the late 1990s, decreasing from 17% to 9.4%. But figures for the impact of motherhood are pretty shocking. We know there’s a motherhood penalty, and that the gender pay gap expands enormously for all women from the age of 40 onwards.  

"More than 50% of women work part-time after having children, whereas of the women who don’t have children, only about 12% work part-time."

According to research by the TUC looking at people aged 42 and onwards, there is a big gender pay gap between men and women working full-time and this was found to be due largely to the impact of parenthood. According to the study childless women working full-time were still earning less than childless men, but the gap was 12%, whereas for women with children versus men with children the gap was 42%. 

So the gender pay gap for people over 40 is driven largely by motherhood. More than 50% of women work part-time after having children, whereas of the women who don’t have children, only about 12% work part-time. And going back to work part-time comes with an additional penalty for mothers. 

Parenthood is going to have a very negative effect on your pay, even if you go back full-time. While you’ve been at home with the kids it’s five years out of the labour market where you’ve fallen behind in terms of skills and development and you’ve lost all your social capital. Meanwhile the organisation has moved on and is virtually unrecognisable, and your boss is probably no longer there. So you don’t have the same perceived value as before. 

"There is what’s referred to as the Mummy Track - a phrase used to describe the different path a woman's career takes after she has children. Of course some women become more focused on family than work, but in some cases there’s just the assumption that they will."

And there is what’s referred to as the Mummy Track - a phrase used to describe the different path a woman's career takes after she has children. Of course some women become more focused on family than work, but in some cases there’s just the assumption that they will. So they’re less likely to be sponsored for promotion, career development and soon– the organisation is less likely to take the risk of investing in mothers. Whereas many women actually work better and in a more focused way once they’ve become mothers – as do men. In fact male earnings are often actually increased by fatherhood, because they’ve knuckled down. 

A lot of research is showing that shared parental leave is not being taken up. One reason is that women don’t want to give it up, but meanwhile men will be looking at what happens to women who take extended periods of time out and the negative impact it has on their career. Colleagues can frown upon it if a man takes parental leave, as can employers. So, anxious to avoid landing on the Daddy Track and knowing it could a negative impact on their earning potential, men are steering well clear of shared leave. 

It’s just not embedded sufficiently, unlike in countries like Sweden, where it’s being going on for years. So until you get that change of attitude in organisations, that won’t happen in the UK. Which means the onus is still on women to take the career break to stay home with young children - and it’s the women’s salaries and career prospects that are negatively impacted.