As a child, you were probably taught an extremely old-fashioned order of doing marriage and family from a popular nursery rhyme. “Kim and Robert sitting in a tree,” some of my 10-year-old friends sang teasingly when they discovered I had a crush on my neighbor. “K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage!”
If I could edit that song a bit, the updates might include some potentially life-changing advice, especially for girls and women: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes several years working your way up the ladder to establish your career on solid footing, before bringing home baby in the baby carriage!”
Otherwise, they may find themselves—and their pay—a casualty of the parental gender earnings gap. According to the findings of a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, a woman’s pay may never bounce back to be comparable to what her (similarly educated) husband makes after she takes time off from work to transition into motherhood.
Through an analysis of earnings reports from 1978 to 2011, researchers found that the pay gap between spouses actually doubles in the two years before and after a child is born. Within their sample, women earned about $12,600 less than men before they have a kid, and $25,100 less afterward. Furthermore, they write, “the main shock at the time of the birth of the child is experienced by the women, whose earnings fall at the time the child was born. They do not recover until the child is 9 or 10 years old. Since the earnings of the male spouse do not undergo the initial shock, the wage gap between the two genders never recovers.”
Of course, the data changes when they take into consideration education, the number of children a couple has, family income, race, and other factors. In fact, the report’s authors were surprised to find that women who had their first kid before the age of 25 or after 35 had similar experiences of earnings recovery that was relative to their spouses', even though their life experiences were so different.
It’s that magical decade of 25 to 35—a period during which many women end up getting married—that’s concerning. “The women who have their children from age 25 to 35 experience a slightly larger shock, and have a much slower recovery in their earnings,” the report continues. “This suggests that the disruption to the early career of women who have children in their late 20s and early 30s is more harmful than either having a child before the career is really started or having it later, when the woman is established in her career.”
In other words: Having kids during these prime career-building years effectively hurts women’s earnings. (Fun fact: The median age at which women become moms is 26.) Shockingly (not really), becoming a parent does not impact men’s earnings.
Danielle Sandler is a senior economist at the U.S. Census Bureau and one of the authors on the report. She told Bloomberg that one solution that could potentially help women stay in the labor force (thus helping them to continue earning money) is technology—as in, companies embracing the beauty of working remotely.
“Potentially, technology could keep women in the labor force while they’re on leave,” Sandler said. “If we expanded maternity leave, women could be a part of the labor force without having to do so many hours and they wouldn’t lose the labor force experience if they drop out of the labor force entirely. It might just keep people connected to their work environment or work network more if they don’t have to drop out entirely.”
In the meantime, IUD, anyone?