Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Has the Price of Motherhood Declined over Time? A Cross-Cohort Comparison of the Motherhood Wage Penalty

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Has the Price of Motherhood Declined over Time? A Cross-Cohort Comparison of the Motherhood Wage Penalty

Article excerpt

Several recent studies have shown a negative association between motherhood and wages. However, an analysis of change over time in the motherhood penalty has not been conducted. Using two cohorts of young women drawn from the 1975-1985 National Longitudinal Survey of Young Women and the 1986-1998 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we explicitly test the relationship between motherhood and wages across two co-horts and examine whether that relationship has changed. Even after controlling for unobserved heterogeneity and human capital variables, each additional child is associated with a negative effect on women 's wages. Moreover, our findings suggest that the penalty has not diminished over time.

As the 21st century begins, women may be approaching equality, but mothers are still far behind. (Ann Crittenden, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued, p. 7)

Key Words: cohort, gender, labor market, motherhood, wage penalty, work-family.

Since the 1960s, traditional roles specifying husbands as breadwinners and wives as homemakers have been eroding. Social commentators and scientists, in fact, often characterize the past two or three decades as a time of women's increasing economic independence, largely in reference to the marked increase in women's labor market involvement in recent decades. Although women's labor force participation has been increasing for at least a century, the trend accelerated in the 1960s. The proportion of married women with children under age 6 who worked in the labor market (either full-time or part-time) increased from 44% in 1970 to almost 71% in 1998 (Casper & Bianchi, 200); Spain & Bianchi, 1996). The gender wage gap has also narrowed, largely driven by cohort replacement (Blau & Kahn, 2000).

Recently, however, a few studies have identified a phenomenon termed the motherhood penalty, which suggests that the intersection between work and family for women is problematic. The key finding from these studies is that the average wages of mothers arc less than those of women without children, even after controlling for human capital, labor market experience, and part-time work status (Anderson, Binder, & Krause, 2002; Budig & England, 2001; Korenman & Neumark, 1991; Taniguchi, 1999; Waldfogel, 1997a).

Although taken together these studies span over 30 years of data (Budig & England, 2001; Korenman & Neumark, 1991; Waldfogel, 1997a), an explicit analysis of possible change over time-in particular, a decline-in the size of the penalty in a single analysis has not been conducted. This study thus examines the motherhood penalty for two cohorts of young women to determine whether the penalty has significantly shifted across time. To do so, we draw on data from the 1975-1985 waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Young Women (NLS-YW) and the 1986-1998 waves of National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY).


The nature of the intersection between motherhood and work outside of the home has shifted over the past few decades. From the 1950s through the 1970s, women who had children often dropped out of the labor force, if they could afford to do so, as the result of several factors. These included public attitudes regarding working mothers, social norms about mothering, discrimination, and the lack of available child care. Consequently, paid labor and children were often incompatible in the lives of women (Casper & Bianchi, 2001; Spain & Bianchi, 1996).

Between the 1960s and today, women's labor force participation rate rose dramatically, particularly among White women (Bianchi & Spain, 1996). Prior to the mid-1960s, most of the increase involved women who were past their childbearing years. Beginning in the late 1960s and 1970s, however, the increase in women's labor force participation spread to younger women, especially mothers of young children (Bianchi & Spain). …

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