The ‘motherhood penalty’ stings no matter how much governments do

The fact is that kids still hurt a woman’s earnings and career options, significantly more so than they hurt the earnings and careers of men. And no amount of affordable childcare (although that would certainly help) and paid parental leave can account for the massive cultural shift that’s needed.

The motherhood penalty affecting a woman’s earnings can start immediately, especially with one in two mothers in Australia saying they have experienced discrimination related to duties, pay or other conditions while pregnant or shortly after having a baby. As we’ve seen in example after example on Women’s Agenda, pregnant women are made redundant. They’re overlooked for promotions. They’re penalised during pay negotiations because they’re going on leave. They’re seen as being less committed to their work.

Following pregnancy, it’s estimated that mothers returning to work after 12 months of parental leave will suffer a wage penalty of 7%, which will later increase to 12%. That penalty increases again with every subsequent child she has. For Dads, it’s different. A number of studies have found that fathers can often see their earnings increase after having children.

Of course the ramifications run deeper that the immediate wages lost from all of the above. The loss of earnings women experience around the time they have children often becoming irreversible – resulting in them retiring with half the superannuation of men.

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