This is a guest post from Cathy Reisenwitz, who blogs at Birmingham SEO Blog.

Time magazine reports that young, childless women are earning more than men. You’d be hard-pressed to find evidence of widespread discrimination against childless women in the workplace. But equally solid data confirms working mothers’ suspicions that working moms do in fact get paid less than childless women. Here’s another article on it from BusinessWeek.

Before you get up in arms about gap in pay between childless women and mothers, consider that maybe gap is fair.

Maybe moms get paid less because they work less. The majority of mothers work part time. Fully two-thirds of mothers work less than 40 hours per week, and most mothers prefer part-time over full-time. Employers pay part time workers less, whether parents or not, and offer fewer benefits because part-time workers aren’t as cost-effective for companies to employ as full-time workers. Childless women are also significantly more likely to work overtime. The vast majority of mothers, 92 percent, work less than 50 hours a week.

As a result of working less, working mothers are also less qualified than childless women. You don’t get the same amount of experience and expertise working 20 hours a week that you do working 40. Should a woman who worked full time for 2 years and then part time for 3 get the same promotion as a woman who worked full time for 5 years? A 1999 study by Klerman and Liebowitz puts it this way: “The motherhood penalty is partially explained by differences in human capital. Women with (more) children may have less experience and seniority due to the employment breaks taken to accommodate childcare.”

Meanwhile, women who get pregnant, or intend to, are more likely to choose careers that pay less.

Then there’s the issue of productivity. Do working mothers do less work during the hours they’re at work? I haven’t found any studies comparing productivity of mothers and childless women, but studies have shown female doctors are less productive than male doctors.

So if working mothers work less, are less qualified and choose lower-paying careers than childless women, should they really get paid the same? I’m thinking no.

This is a guest post from Cathy Reisenwitz, who blogs at Birmingham SEO Blog.

144 replies
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  1. jennifer lynn
    jennifer lynn says:

    a) if this is truly only a productivity issue, then why (as Penelope has said) do men get an increase in pay after they have children?

    b) as others have said, discussing this as a women’s issue is ridiculous. If the human race is going to continue, someone (women) is going to have to have the children. Societal accommodations that make this possible are not BENEFITS to women, they are necessary arrangements to allow for the propagation of the species. Let’s go ahead and have the argument about who gets paid what, but let’s be honest about the societal and biological constructs at work.

    Not that this is relevant, but I don’t have children. I just find this whole argument to be reductive, unnecessarily contrarian, and lazy.

  2. Jill M
    Jill M says:

    Just saw this late 2006 post from penelope:

    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/12/12/harvard-business-review-hides-behind-data-about-extreme-jobs/

    which does not address the pay associated with a job, but does address the generational attitudes about extreme working that are apparent in the comments here.

    Baby Boomers = we did it and we’re fine, so you should do it, too
    Gen Xers = you screwed us up and we’re going to do things differently now

    hence, all the angst.

  3. KB
    KB says:

    As a working professional mom, I will not take the time to respond to these types of controversial points with the pages long response sociologists and many other social scientists have mounted regarding the evidence that disputes many of your out-dated claims. As someone who spends a great deal of time thinking about these issues for a living, I get much more use out of posts that begin from a more informed starting point. We can pretend that humans act rational in determining hiring, promotion, and salary, but decades of social science research demonstrates that we clearly do not act very rationally about our categorization of other people and their intentions/capabilities/strengths, etc. In fact, this small point helps us to function on a daily basis in order to make sense of our environment quickly in times of need (for example, the fact that we can quickly deduce a dangerous situation by putting together small assumptions about others behavior can be a big benefit to us – this tendency also includes many instances when we are mistaken, however). Everyday interaction is filled with these types of implicit associations about others, and indeed, much research shows that not only do we act on these notions quickly but often despite our best intentions. It is disheartening that some people decide to ignore this research when it relates to particularly uncomfortable or tricky issues, like gender inequity, or motherhood, both of which are proven status distinctions in US society. If this article was written with a focus on why we see significant gaps between pay and promotion among racial groups, it would be much more easily understood as misinformed.

    However, I would like to refocus the discussion on the references that we make one’s “choice” to have children. Many posters claim that it is a woman’s choice to have children, thus implying that a mother gets what she deserves when work and family conflict. The fact of the matter is that NOT having children is the choice when we are talking about human interaction. This simple switch in understanding redirects many of these discussions away from the individual to more structural issues regarding the arrangements of work and family in US society. Structural concerns are much more engaging, productive, and useful to debate under this framework than the type of inciting statements posted by the OP and many of the comments to this article.

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      @ KB — I didn’t “choose” to be childless. Due to circumstances beyond my control, it just happened that way.

      While I agree that we need to look at the issue from a variety of angles, as a childless woman I can tell you a whole lot about the assumptions people make. Having kids is still seen as the norm, and those of us who don’t want or can’t have them are still viewed as being selfish or having something wrong with us. Other single, childless women I know have faced prejudice getting a job because it’s assumed they’ll rush off and have kids the first chance they get.

      I want to be treated as an individual, not a woman, and I think workplaces should be more flexible for everyone, not just women or parents.

      • Mitch
        Mitch says:

        perhaps dont project your personal axe to grind, outwards in the form of traffic grabbing phony articles. go to counselling and become happy imho.

  4. keemia
    keemia says:

    This is a perfect example of an article with solid facts not leading to the truth.

    I’m a single woman with no kids.

    A lot of women are now making more than their husbands, necessitating them to solidly work through their child bearing years.

    Being single is continually used against both men and women in the workplace. We work harder, but we’re viewed as social outcasts for not having a family unit, and at the end of the day, people with kids have “mouths to feed” so they get the better raises and promotions.

    I can go on and on, but this should be enough food for thought.

  5. awiz8
    awiz8 says:

    This is one of the most idiotic ideas I’ve heard of in the past few years. It’s a slam against those single mothers who are working and raising kids at the same time. I’d like to see what Penelope has to say when she discovers that her employer is paying her 20% less than her male counterparts, just because she’s a mother.

  6. Vickie Pynchon
    Vickie Pynchon says:

    This is simply not supported by the research that shows both men and women respond to mothers as being less capable, less competent and less dedicated to their work than fathers. What you write here is the very stereotype that keeps women “in their place,” presenting them/us with the choice between career and family, a choice men are never required to make. In fact, the research shows that when men become fathers, they are held in even higher esteem than their childless colleagues because it is assumed they are more stable rather than less. So why is it that childless men do not make less money than women, with or without children, if they are unstable workers until they “man up” and assume family responsibilities. These stereotypes are harmful to all of us but the majority of the harm fell, continues to fall and will in the future fall on women if we women develop “Stockholm Syndrome” and mimic the stereotypes of of male commercial culture.

  7. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    Regarding female doctors being less productive than male doctors: be skeptical that the right metric is being used. In my experience, women doctors take more time to listen, and more time to explain. That reduces patient stress and misunderstandings. I’d bet that this correlates to better health outcomes, in terms of faster recovery, less dosing errors, fewer misdiagnoses, etc. Patients per hour is not the whole story.

    • Eli Spark
      Eli Spark says:

      I have not gone to a male doctor for years for exactly the reasons you state. They don’t listen and they don’t take the time to actually figure out what is happening.

  8. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    I’m a four-time CEO who has generated a half billion dollars in shareholder value in the last 10 years. Early in my career I worked for bosses who valued hours over efficiency. Like most non-union workers, extra hours didn’t mean extra pay, nor did they get me promoted. Stupidly, I played the expected game and allowed myself to be exploited.

    Here’s the truth from the top: Only results matter. Hours are irrelevant. I’d rather hire parents, because they live in a world where they have to get results no matter what. Food on the table, kids to school, mediating for peace, etc. I find that parents are twice as productive per hour as single people, and 50% more productive than childless married people. Yes, these are generalizations and there are good and bad exceptions.

    Productivity is a crock unless it’s measured in value generated per dollar paid. Hours are irrelevant. If you have a boss who ever talks about paying your dues to get ahead, then move on. That company isn’t competitive, and a company who values ingenuity, problem solving, and RESULTS will eat their lunch.

  9. Laura
    Laura says:

    I wonder how the “productivity” of doctors is measured? If it is number of patients seen per day, then I’m going to the less “productive” female doctor who actually spends the time to listen to me and therefore makes a correct diagnoses in fewer visits…THAT’s productivity in my book.

  10. Adriana
    Adriana says:

    I agree with the “less work” equals “less experience” comments and, myself included, believe that a working mom should really choose a career that is comfortable enough to include the tasks associated with motherhood, even if it means a lower pay. On the other hand, I completely disagree with the less productivity theory and think the opposite happens (and makes sense): in my particular case it is so obvious to me: my husband has a higher salary position (at the same company), works 20% more hours than I do but is much less productive, with so much time to “mess around”. I get everything I have to do done quickly (to my own standards of quality, which seems to meet my boss expectations) so that I can get ready to my “second shift” at home…

  11. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    So what do you say to working mothers who do work as much as other women (and men), who haven’t taken considerable time away from their careers, who get paid considerably less?

  12. AntZ
    AntZ says:

    It is about time the lame stream media started questioning feminist distortions and mis-representations.

    Women earn less because of the choices that they make. Women make choices that match their lifestyle with their life objectives.

    Men earn more because the only choice a man ever gets is between working like a slave or being ridiculed as a bum.

  13. mp
    mp says:

    There are studies out there which show how much time men waste per day accessing on-line pornography. Therefore, all men should automatically receive less pay than women because of their lifestyle choices. People with pets also should get paid less than people without pets because it is well known how much time is wasted on vet appointments and someone has to stay home when the pet is sick or has had surgery. People in romantic relationships should also get paid less because it is well known how much time they waste calling their new lovers on the phone, daydreaming about their new lovers, using company money to bring lovers on company trips, leaving early to buy gifts in the hopes of getting laid. Oh and smokers have to be paid less because while non-smokers are slaving away, smokers are gossiping while ruining their lungs.
    There, the only people who actually do work while at work is mothers, because after caring full time for children, work at work is a break and not at all difficult in comparison. Plus multi-tasking comes much more easily.

    • Hidto
      Hidto says:

      “after caring full time for children, work at work is a break and not at all difficult in comparison. Plus multi-tasking comes much more easily.”

      I can tell you are probably a parent, mp.

      I’m curious about how some people know that their coworkers are unproductive. I leave work at 5 to pick up my kids from day care, but after they are in bed I fire up my home computer (bought by me for work, because my office wouldn’t provide me with a laptop) and get back to work if I have a big project. Many nights I’ve worked from 9 pm to 2 am to make sure my work is done.

  14. mp
    mp says:

    The point is the focus on mothers is sexist. All sorts of people use working time for all sorts of less important reasons than caring for the resource we pretend to think is the most important to us. People come in with hangovers (arguably this will occur much less often with mothers), older people get ill more often, other people have elderly parents to care for. Workplaces work best with a wide range of different kind of workers, with different skills and different demands. Just as childless people can offer one skill set and schedule demands, mothers – and today increasingly fathers – offer a set of skills and abilities learned through the full time care of another human being, skills and abilities people who do not have children rarely acquire. The studies about mothers and pay show the perception that this very article shows, that of all the ways of ‘wasting’ time while at work, the fact that mothers sometimes stay at home with sick kids (putting them in front of cartoons while working from home on a laptop as much as possible) is singled out as reason enough to pay women less.

    • hw
      hw says:

      Great point! We always single out working moms as less productive while others like you said often have other reasons for reduced productivity.

  15. PK
    PK says:

    I agree with the ideas you’re presenting for argument here_Except for one thing, your point about female doctors being less productive than male doctors. “Productivity” in medicine is basically defined by how many patients the doctor sees in an hour. Female doctors are generally believed to have lower productivity because they spend more time talking to the patient, as opposed to male doctors. So the term productivity is not necessarily an indicator of how healthy their patients are…so female physicians whose patients do just as well as those of male doctors are not paid the same amount despite ultimately achieving the same goal.

  16. hw
    hw says:

    I’m puzzled by the statement of “92% of mothers work less than 50 hours a week” — so what? I work full time (40 hours a week). Overtime is an exception, not the rule for me & my childless co-workers. What is wrong with that? The statement makes it seem like it’s somehow wrong or that you’re less dedicated if you work less than 50 hours a week.

    Someone mentioned that the ‘solution’ to the dilemmas faced by working moms is to be sure to have a supportive partner. I could not second that more. I am starting the juggling act and have gotten advice from other moms. It’s amazing (and wrong) to me that 99% of them still do the majority of household work or organization of household work and cooking. I am trying to delegate as much as possible and am fortunate that my husband is an excellent cook, and willing to share in household chores!

  17. Allie
    Allie says:

    You know, instead of reprimanding mothers for working fewer hours, what you really need to be questioning is the idea that we're all supposed to be working 50+ hours a week. If you keep that kind of thinking where that’s what is supposed to make you a a devoted worker then mothers will never measure up – it's simply impossible if you have to stick to the ten-hour rule or make sure you're home in time for your co-parent to go to work.

    Motherhood/childcare is not a luxury. Quite acting like working mothers are being lazy.

    “The good devoted worker” only ever exists for single adults who outsourced caregiving and adult men with a full-time wife who could take care of all the non-work details. SOMEONE has to do the cooking, cleaning, childcare, scheduling doctor's visits, balancing the checkbook, grocery shopping, laundry, etc. No worker should be expected to put in more than 35-40 hours per week without overtime pay or other provisions made for those necessities of life that need to happen.

  18. Cerise
    Cerise says:

    I think you’re confusing productivity with hours worked. I’m highly productive and hardly work overtime because I am able to finish my work within my working hours. However someone who procrastinates and chats with other people while putting off work then will have to do overtime to get the same amount of work done.

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  20. Nikki
    Nikki says:

    I also agree that productivity should not simply be based on hours only, I have both working mums and non-mum females, married and unmarried who are great on productivity in lesser time.

     If a person does overtime at all times, it may be a sign of bad organisation and lack of time management.

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