Gender Pay Equity in Advanced Countries: The Role of Parenthood and Policies

By Misra, Joya; Strader, Eiko | Journal of International Affairs, Fall-Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Gender Pay Equity in Advanced Countries: The Role of Parenthood and Policies


Misra, Joya, Strader, Eiko, Journal of International Affairs


Despite dramatic changes in women's representation in employment, the gender gap in pay remains substantial in most advanced, wealthy countries. Our analyses show the important role that parenthood plays in explaining the gender wage gap. While childless women's wages are converging with that of childless men, mothers' wages are substantially lower than fathers' wages in many countries. Fathers earn bonuses relative to childless men, while mothers suffer penalties relative to childless women. Even though the gender gap for childless workers has been declining over time, the motherhood penalty remains stable, controlling for a variety of factors such as education and experience. We show how the gender gap, motherhood penalties, and fatherhood bonuses differ across a range of wealthy countries. Furthermore, we discuss how maternity leaves, paternity leaves, parental leaves, and publicly subsidized childcare can help address these inequalities by helping parents--both men and women engage in employment and caregiving. Finally, we argue that policies need to target wage inequality not only by gender, but also by parenthood.

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Despite the increase in employment numbers and earnings for women globally over the past several decades, there remains a persistent and substantial gender wage gap, with women earning less than men. This gap is prevalent across a broad range of advanced, wealthy countries in Oceania, Europe, and North America. For example, as of 2010, women with full-time employment in the United States earned approximately 77 percent of what their male peers earned. (1) Although the gap has narrowed--that figure was 60 percent in 1960--U.S. gender wage parity would not occur until 2056 at that rate of change. (2) Scholars in disciplines ranging from economics, public policy, and sociology have shown that women's earnings have increased relative to men's due to rising education levels, increased employment opportunities, and the passage of anti-discrimination legislation. Yet it is also true that the gender wage gap narrowed in a relative sense, as men's wages have fallen due to deindustrialization and the decline of labor unions?

This convergence in wages, however, primarily reflects the experience of childless men and women. Mothers continue to earn substantially less than other workers in most countries. While mothers earn significantly less than childless women with the same characteristics referred to as a motherhood penalty fathers earn somewhat more than childless men with the same characteristics referred to as a fatherhood bonus. Research shows that rather than declining over time as the gender gap has done, the motherhood penalty remains stable, controlling for factors such as education and experience. (4)

We focus on the intersection of gender and parenthood in eleven countries. Through our analysis, we found that parenthood and specifically, actual and perceived caregiver responsibilities that are entrenched in employers' perceptions and reinforced through legislation and policies, are central factors in explaining the persisting gender wage gap. Wage gaps may reflect the market value of differing levels of human capital. A woman who is less educated or has lost marketable professional experience by taking time out of the workforce receives a lower wage. Yet even controlling for those variables, research continues to find substantial differences in wages by parenthood status and gender? We first review the existing literature that has attempted to explain the persistence of motherhood penalties and fatherhood bonuses. By analyzing available earnings data from eleven advanced economies, we illustrate how parenthood contributes to the gender wage gap and how it differs across those countries. Finally, we examine some existing public policies and propose some key ones aimed at reducing the gender wage gap, specifically taking into account the notion of gendered parenthood. …

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