Women face ‘pay penalty’ of 45% in six years after giving birth to their first child, study shows 

Women who have children have been found to earn almost half of their previous salaries in the six years after giving birth, research has found. 

Known as the ‘motherhood wage penalty’ the reduction in long-term earnings is undestood to be as high as 45% relative to what women would have earned if they had remained childless. 

The study, carried out by University College London, found that women returning to work after having their first child would earn on average 28% less in the first year. 

This figure equates to a salary drop of around £306 a month, or £3,672 per year. 

The research, published in academic journal the European Sociological Review, found that this salary loss rose to a staggering 45% over the next six years. 

Experts suggested that some of this is linked to how many children a woman has as the wage penalty increases with successive births.

The wage gap also affects women differently depending on their career type. 

Women face 'pay penalty' of 45% lower earnings in the six years after giving birth to their first child, study shows (stock image)

Women face ‘pay penalty’ of 45% lower earnings in the six years after giving birth to their first child, study shows (stock image)

The study, carried out by University College London, found that women returning to work after having their first child would earn on average 28% less in the first year

The study, carried out by University College London, found that women returning to work after having their first child would earn on average 28% less in the first year

A key factor in the size of the motherhood penalty was the amount of hours a woman was able to do when she returned to the workplace. 

Those who returned part-time suffered a bigger reduction in earnings than those who were able to work full time. 

Women in established and career-oriented jobs, particularly those who were higher-earners in higher social brackets, suffered a smaller penalty. 

Researchers suggested this could be because they had established a career with an employer who valued their progression in a company when they returned to work, according to The Telegraph.  

‘We found that mothers who are able to maintain full-time working hours experience little to no penalty,’ Dr Giacomo Vagni, a researcher at the centre for time user research at UCL’s Institute of Education, told the publication. 

‘However, few mothers manage to do so. After the birth of their first child, few manage to return to their pre-birth working hours.’

Experts previously warned the Gender Pay Gap inquiry that traditionally employers saw returning mothers as being of lesser value, and offered them less pay, fewer promotions and part-time work instead of flexible hours.

Dr Vagni highlighted that the study showed a critical need for better subsidised childcare in the UK, where childcare is typically very expensive.

Women in established and career-oriented jobs, particularly those who were higher-earners in higher social brackets, suffered a smaller penalty (stock image)

Women in established and career-oriented jobs, particularly those who were higher-earners in higher social brackets, suffered a smaller penalty (stock image)

He also said employers need to adopt more child-friendly policies to allow women to return to work and to close the gender pay gap.

‘The UK is a country with a very expensive private childcare system,’ he told The Telegraph. 

‘Mothers are much more likely to be the ones putting their career aside with the birth of a child.

‘Therefore, motherhood takes mothers away from the labour market during the prime years of career development. 

‘Mothers with young children miss out on important job opportunities and promotions.’

The study, carried out by UCL researchers, used the British Household Panel Survey to compare women’s earnings between 1995 and 2005.

It is not the first examination of the gender pay gap to find a disparity of earnings as a result of motherhood. 

A recent study in 2019 looking into the effect of children on the gender gap also found a 44 per cent child penalty for the earnings of women who became mothers relative to men who became fathers.

Other studies, including one in 1998 and another in 2019, also backed the idea that the most important source of gender inequality in pay is parenthood status.

Men don’t just get higher wages – they also expect them too – with male students anticipating being paid 9.7 per cent more than females in their first job after university.

Research carried out by the University of Fribourg in Switzerland found that within a year of graduation the men expected to be earning 9.7 more than what the female students expected to be earning.

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