The Motherhood Penalty and The Gender Pay Gap


The Motherhood Penalty and The Gender Pay Gap

Wage disparity amongst men and women is a well-documented issue that sadly shows no sign of abating. Whilst there are claims that the gender pay gap is falling (in the UK the unadjusted gap has fallen from 27.3 per cent in 2003 to 19.7 per cent ten years later in 2013) it is still hugely significant and has huge effects on women at every stage of both their personal and professional life.

A Situation That Worsens with Age

The situation has improved in that the gender pay gap is almost negligible up until the point that a woman chooses to become a mother. However at this point, the gender pay gap becomes larger than ever: following maternity leave and after a woman becomes a mother: a phenomenon known as the motherhood penalty. This pay gap after maternity leave continues to increase as a woman ages and is likely to have a negative impact on the amount that they are able to earn, and the kinds of benefits they receive (such as health care, bonus pay structures, and  other professional incentives) for the rest of their career. The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that as women age, the pay gap in full time professional and management roles only becomes more problematic, increasing significantly from 6 per cent for women aged between 26 to 35, up to 20 per cent for women aged between 36 to 45. In fact, women in management roles who are over 40 are the most discriminated against group, experiencing an incredible 35 per cent pay gap – a gap that is more than 10 per cent higher than the overall average wages gap between the sexes.

Softer Roles Offered to Mothers

As well as offering women lower levels of pay than their male counterparts, women who are returning to the work place after they have taken a period of maternity leave also find themselves shepherded into different roles to the role they were doing before they had children: these roles are often either part time or less challenging than their previous role, offering them less opportunity for promotion and career progression. Pigeon-holing them into roles that they didn’t want in order to fit around their childcare is just another form of gender discrimination, and one that women continue to accept, for fear that by not doing so they will not be able to keep their jobs, or their dual roles as mothers and professional employees will become untenable. Whilst these issues are affecting women who are not mothers too, it is mothers who seem to be bearing the brunt of the inequality in terms of both pay and career progression within the workplace. But championing and realising change in the issue is, sadly, not something that will happen overnight.

Business leaders are deeply resistance to change and are certainly resistant to quotas to solve gender inequalities and protect the rights of women in the workplace. However it is important to remember just how vital women in the workplace are to the success of the British economy: women make up 47% of the British workforce and the roles that they are fulfilling are vital to our overall success and productivity. By pushing women into roles where they are not reaching their fullest potential in order to avoid having to deal with the perceived hassle of negotiating childcare and other work-life balance issues, many businesses and workplaces are actually hampering their economic progress. The Women And Work Commission found that taking the time to understand and unleash women’s full workplace potential could be worth an estimated £23 billion a year to the Exchequer. Eliminating gender discrimination in relation to professional role and pay could increase women’s wages by about 50% and national output by 5%, according to the Women’s Business Council’s first evidence paper: Not only does it make moral sense, it also makes good financial and economic sense too.


“Pay gap reporting”, Equal Pay Portal,

“Closing the gender pay gap”,,

“The Motherhood Pay Gap: A review of the issues, theory, and international evidence”, International Labour Office,—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_348041.pdf

“Your health”,

“Motherhood penalty: Women are paid less ‘for decades’ after maternity leave”, The Telegraph,

“The motherhood penalty”, Policy Network,

“Women and work: the facts”, Business in the Community,

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter