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Chief executive of California-based social and educational group for parents Club MomMe Rachel Pitzel
Image: Chief executive of California-based social and educational group for parents Club MomMe Rachel Pitzel. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Mothers who work part-time pay a ‘wage penalty’

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Image: Chief executive of California-based social and educational group for parents Club MomMe Rachel Pitzel. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Mothers who combine part-time work with caring for children are losing out in the salary stakes, according to a new study.

The tendency for many mothers to take part-time work or a career break while caring for young children reduces their long-term prospects for salary progression compared with similarly educated fathers working full-time, researchers found.

The average female worker earns 20% less per hour than her male colleagues and can expect to be earning 30% less by the time her first child turns 20, according to research funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

Researchers at the London-based think tank found that an initial gender pay gap was already in place before female workers had their children, with women already earning on average 10% less than their male counterparts before starting a family.

Gender pay gap larger among well-educated women

However, once their children were born, the pay gap widened and, although it has fallen since the 1990s by 28% to 18% among low paid female workers, the gap has stubbornly remained at 22% for the highest educated women.

IFS researchers found that the gender pay gap widened significantly when women hit their late 20s and early 30s. In contrast, at this point in men’s careers wages tended to rise rapidly – especially among well-educated male workers – while female worker’s salaries stagnated.

By the time a woman’s first child is 20, on average she has been in paid work for three years less than her male counterparts and spent 10 years less in full-time paid employment (defined by the study as more than 25 hours a week).

Researchers found that there was a greater impact on wages among highly-educated women because they would otherwise have enjoyed the biggest salary progression, with graduates’ hourly wages increased by a further 6% from an additional year of full-time experience compared with workers who left school with only GCSEs.

“It is remarkable that periods spent in part-time work lead to virtually no wage progression at all,” said Monica Costa Dias, an IFS associate director and co-author of the study. “It should be a priority for governments and others to understand the reasons for this.”

Equal pay in the spotlight

In the UK the issue of equal pay is currently under scrutiny after the BBC’s former China Editor Carrie Gracie resigned from her post at the public service broadcaster, complaining of gender pay disparity and other female colleagues revealed similar concerns.

Similarly, British supermarket giant Tesco is facing its biggest-ever equal pay lawsuit and an estimated £4bn bill following a legal challenge demanding equal pay for women who work in the firm’s warehouses. If the lawsuit is successful, female workers could receive up to £20,000 each in back pay from the supermarket.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Alvexo on the matter.