Why Dads Earn More and Moms Earn Less than the Childfree

It's more than just gender discrimination

Posted Nov 09, 2014

A study came out last month showing the impact of having children on the careers of women and men, and the results are interesting, though not surprising. Michelle Budig, a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has studied the parenthood pay gap for 15 years . Her research has shown that a man’s career will get a boost if he becomes a dad, and he is more likely to be hired than his childfree male counterparts. For women, it’s an almost opposite finding. Mothers earn less than childfree women, and they are less likely to be chosen for a position. Some stereotypical thinking is likely happening here, with employers viewing fathers as more stable and committed to their work, while mothers are perceived as likely to work less and to be more distracted when on the job.

These findings are good news for childfree women, who are so often viewed in a negative way outside of the workplace, but not so great for men without kids.

So, how might you apply these findings to your own life? First of all, I’ve said many times that I truly believe that we can’t have it all, and this is especially true for women. It’s simply not possible to fully engage as a mother, an employee, a wife, a friend, and someone whose health is a priority. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all well. I often find myself encouraging young women to think about what they want for themselves, to establish a path for their future. This may mean choosing a career as opposed to a job, being a mom, choosing to have only one child, or giving up on some extracurricular activities. Some things should not be sacrificed, including sleep, exercise, and time to nurture primary relationships, but the choices about how to fill out one’s life beyond these essentials are endless. As a childfree woman, I’ve chosen to build a career that has been rewarding emotionally, intellectually, and financially, and to spend considerable time on issues related to childfree living. And I still have energy for fun hobbies.

Second, childfree women have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that we really are on par with our male counterparts. Budig’s research shows that childfree, unmarried women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers earn 76 cents, and a woman’s pay goes down with the addition of each child. I believe that there are reasons for this aside from the often-cited gender discrimination. Mothers are often distracted by things happening with their children; they need flexibility in their schedules, they’re less likely to be able to travel for work, and they’re the parent who typically stays at home when a child is ill. Of course, I recognize that these are stereotypical assumptions on my part, but I observe them to the true, even in the liberal Pacific Northwest town where I reside. Even among my peer group of psychologists, almost all who are mothers work part-time and the professional leadership positions tend to be held by male psychologists. At this point in time, childfree women still make up only twenty percent of the population, but as this percentage grows, so will the number of women earning as much as men and taking on leadership roles.


Ellen Walker, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living By Choice Or By Chance.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Thomas Hawk (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0)