Mothers earn around 22% less than their male colleagues. Photograph: Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Corbis
Women with children earn about 22% less than their male colleagues, according to a new report that explores the “devastating” impact of motherhood on earnings.
“Before becoming parents, men and women are equally likely to be employed, but childbirth marks the start of a great divide, which continues even after children have left home and does lasting damage to women’s careers,” the report finds.
Around 57% of mothers with children under five are in paid work, compared with 90% of men, according to the research published by the Fawcett Society. Partnered women without dependent children earn 9% less than men on average, but for mothers working full-time who have two children, the pay gap with men in the same situation is 21.6%.
“For each year she is absent from the workplace, a mother’s future wages will reduce by 5%,” says the study, entitled Not Having it All: How Motherhood Reduces Women’s Pay and Employment Prospects. Mothers are also much more likely than fathers to adjust their work to fit in with their children’s schedules.
“It is critical that those mothers who choose or need to be in paid work should be able to do so without suffering a pay penalty,” said Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society.
Mothers often return to work part-time, which has a critical impact on wage levels. This is because part-time work is more likely to be low paid, and women working part-time are less likely to be promoted, will have less access to training and are more likely to be made redundant.
“Mothers are faced with impossible choices. To find jobs that are compatible with childcare, they have to make major compromises, trading down their careers so that they can meet their children’s needs. The challenge now for government is to support mothers to maintain their position in the workforce and achieve the family life that they want,” Rake said.
The pay penalty is one of the highest in Europe, according to separate research published by the University of Manchester. The study showed that working mothers in the UK are half as likely as childless women to work in high-earning professions and eight times more likely to work part-time. These figures put the UK in last place out of the six countries studied – the others being Finland, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and France.
Poor access to childcare is the main reason for this disparity, the report concludes. “Britain offers the shortest parental leave entitlement of all six countries and little access to affordable childcare,” said Vanessa Gash, the report’s author.