Fighting Back Against Mom's Wage Gap

The paycheck of the most important woman in your life will only be 71% of her male counterpart. The woman who raised and cared for you will be economically hampered due to stereotypes and bias. But we think your mom deserves better.

By Steph Black

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That’s right. Your mother. Selfless and loving, is being discriminated against. Today, May 30th 2018, is the day that a mother will have finally earned enough to catch up to a father’s paycheck from 2017. By the time a father has earned $1 in 2017, your mother will have to work an additional 71 days to earn the same amount, which is why we ‘celebrate’ Mom’s Equal Pay Day today on May 30th.

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And since that 71% is the average for all mothers (which is $16,000 less than fathers ) in the United States, this number can vary wildly based on the state she works in and her race.

Maine, for example, is the state with the best pay for mothers. But even though it boasts the lowest pay gap, mothers in Maine will still earn only 85 cents for every father’s dollar, which translates to an $8,000 per year loss. But this is miles better than Utah, with the highest pay gap, where mothers make only 58 cents for every father’s dollar, which is a loss of $25,000 each year.  

The wage gap also persists across educational and age levels. Regardless of what level of education (from a high school degree to a doctorate) moms will earn less than dads. And the wage gap gets wider with age: moms in their forties will earn only 72 cents for every dad at that age’s dollar.

Unsurprisingly (but still disappointingly), moms of color will make even less than white dads. Asian/Pacific Islander mothers nationwide are paid just 85 cents for every dollar of white fathers. Black mothers make 54 cents. Native mothers make an abysmal 49 cents. And white mothers earn 69 cents. And with the highest gap, Latina mothers will earn just 46 cents for every white father’s dollar.

And when we combine both state and race, the District of Columbia boasts the highest wage gap for Black and Latina mothers, who earn 35 cents and 24 cents respectively, compared to white fathers in DC.

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And who exactly are these mothers? There are 24.3 million moms with children under 18 who work outside of the home, most of whom work full time. This makes up 1 in 6, or 15.8 percent, of all workers. Not an insignificant demographic. But most significantly , 42 percent of mothers were the sole or primary breadwinners in their families, while 22.4 percent of mothers were co-breadwinners. These mothers are critical earners for their families.

Stereotypes about mothers and bias against women by men in leadership roles has, in part, allowed this trend to flourish. It goes by many names: ‘mommy tracking,’ the ‘motherhood penalty,’ or even the ‘pregnancy penalty.’ Women are often forced into ‘pink collar jobs’, such as nursing and teaching. Employers see women, regardless of whether they even have children, as less qualified or dedicated to the job. These employers put them on fewer projects, and give them less responsibility, and erroneously assume that these women will be more preoccupied with their children than the work.

Yet paradoxically, the opposite appears to be true for dads. The ‘fatherhood bonus’ seemingly rewards dads for the exact reasons why women are punished. Men are more likely to be hired more and paid higher wages after having children than before. When things like hours worked, job type, and spouses’ salaries are controlled for the data shows that men earn 6% more and women earn 4% less after having children, solely because of employers bias.

JWI is proud to be on the frontlines of this fight for moms’ pay justice. For decades, JWI has advocated for pay equity legislation on Capitol Hill and works diligently to promote women’s economic security through its Life$avings® workshops to empower teen girls, college students and young professionals to start managing their money early in their careers. An important aspect of this training is role-playing sessions that teach young women how to speak up in salary negotiations, a skill that is fundamental for achieving equity in the workplace. Our goal is to help empower women to end this wage gap once and for all. For our mothers’ sake, let’s hope this day isn’t too far off.

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Steph Black is a Senior at American University studying Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. When not talking, reading, or writing about Judaism and feminism, she's usually hanging out with her cat, Goose or with friends downtown.