Moms Need Equal Pay and Paid Leave

Working Mothers Need Paid Leave and Equal Pay

Being a mother can be deeply rewarding: You get to spend time sharing your own expertise with little ones, while they push you to see the world from a different perspective. Yet, while those rewards are personally meaningful, they aren’t lucrative. Today marks Mother’s Equal Pay Day, or the day into the year in which a woman with children must work in order to make what a man earned in the previous year. With the need to work nearly 5 months more to earn the equivalent to a man’s wage, no wonder it feels like a woman’s work is never done!

In 2014, Professor Michelle Budig of the University of Massachusetts conducted research to determine how parenthood impacts the wage gap. Her findings were surprising to some: Generally, women lose money for every child they parent, but men earn more. While Budig examines some of the that factors that may influence this difference such as career choice (women working in a more “family friendly” job or men picking up hours to cover the increase costs of parenthood), she concludes that it cannot account for the full differential in wages. Budig explains that stereotypes and assumptions drive much of the differential. She notes “fatherhood may serve as a signal to potential employers for greater maturity, commitment, or stability,” while stereotypes of motherhood could make women’s commitment to the workplace “suspect,” particularly for women in low-wage jobs.

Historically, our country has devalued caregiving, while simultaneously relying on the unpaid work of women to keep households and families going. For the past century, most of our workplace laws have continued to reinforce these stereotypes, and often ignore women’s domestic work, whether unpaid or underpaid. But the reality is that the American family, and workforce, has changed dramatically in the last century.

We need a cultural transformation to bring laws in line with the realities of today’s families and workplaces, and level the playing field for women. That transformation begins with changing state and federal workplace laws to address the underlying barriers to work for women, which, in turn, will chip away at the wage gap. One of the most significant steps we can take is creating family and medical leave insurance for all workers. Paid leave is not only important to women who need time to heal due to a pregnancy, but for anyone who is providing care for oneself or someone else.

Three states currently have family medical leave insurance in place. The vast majority of this leave is used for personal care: the time needed to heal from a medical crisis. Yet, by expanding this leave to include time to care for someone else, these three states have seen a rise in the number of men who take time off to caregive. In Rhode Island, men make up one-third of all workers taking time off to care for a new child in the home. The ability to take time off to be a good father is not only important in the moment, it also means that father is more likely to be engaged in their child’s care from that point onward. Sharing household chores serves to address gender imbalance in the home, while wage replacement for caregiving rebalances it in the workplace.

As we acknowledge Mother’s Equal Pay Day, know there’s much you can do to close the pay gap for working mothers. The first step is to speak up, share your story, and get involved in a campaign for paid leave in your state.

by Gayle Goldin, the Family Medical Leave Insurance Campaign Advisor for Family Values @ Work.