The Mommy Tax

When the Equal Pay Act passed in 1963, all gender based economic disparity disappeared.  Today, all women with degrees need to do is “lean in” to their competitive working environments, and the opportunities come flying.  What are all these radical, man-hating feminists complaining about?!

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There is a common misconception that the fight for economic equality between genders is over. And by a misconception, I mean a manipulation of data by anti-Feminist groups such as the Independent Women’s Forum, who, in 1999, proudly touted the (still unequal) “fact” that women make ninety-eight cents to every man’s dollar (87).  I say manipulation because if you think critically about the situation mothers are in and look at the data surrounding that situation, you will see that mothers are forced into the bottom of the economic hierarchy.

Why does this gap still exist?

There are many answers, one of them being that gender based discrimination does still occur in the work place. However, another contribution is the prevalent and ignored phenomenon called “the mommy tax” (88).  This phenomenon describes the loss of money, or “tax,” that women endure when they decide to mother a child, and take on the responsibilities that come with that job.  Often, this tax can determine if a mother will be exposed to poverty.

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How does the mommy tax work, exactly?

Take a woman, Mom, who has been working at her job for several years. When Mom decides to have a child, she might want to take several years off work to prepare for the birth, give birth, and then recover and spend time with her child.  In those few years, Mom loses her annual income and the possibility of increasing her annual income through promotions (89).  She may also struggle in being hired once she chooses to reenter the work force.

Even if Mom’s partner is working, the primary parent’s income loss can still be caustic. Take, for example, a secretary who earned a yearly salary of $14,850.  If she decides to have two children after age 25, she might wait approximately 8 years to go back to work part time.  Then, say she works part time, (again, to spend more time raising her children) for 12 years before going back to work full time until she is 59.  By retirement, she has been “taxed” nearly $411,000 for being a mother (59).

But Mom did that to herself in choosing to have a child, right?

Actually, many mothers who would like to work post partum are edged out by their employers, who feel that a new mother is not up to the task. Employers may hire a childless individual over an equally qualified mother, or refuse to compromise with mothers on work schedules (99).  Additionally, since the American government does not require employers to offer women paid maternity leave, many mothers feel coerced into quitting their jobs to stay home with their child (95).  For those who choose to (or must) work, “mandatory,” short notice overtime also conflicts with motherhood, leaving many mothers without promotions, or worse, without jobs (95).

Even mothers who are able to work part time are placed at a disadvantage, as they often receive “40 percent less an hour than full-time workers,” since their employers do not need to give them benefits or equal pay (97).

But what about how women make ninety-eight cents to every man’s dollar?

This statistic only applies to childless women between the ages of twenty seven and thirty three (93).  This excludes not only younger and older women, but all of the working mothers who would be affected by this tax, most of whom work part time.  In the 2010 census, the wages of all women who worked full time were 77% of men’s (5).  However, since only around half of mothers work full time, the true wage gap, the gap that includes women and mothers who work part time for traditionally lesser wages, should be much lower (93).  Even more alarming, the wage gap between men and women is smaller than the wage gap between mothers and non-mothers under 35 (94).

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*Women’s Earnings as a Percentage of Men’s Earnings in the Past 12 Months by State: 2007 (14)

Why does America make it so hard for mothers to work? Is there anything we can do?

Yes. As with most things, Europe does it better. In European countries that require paid maternity leave, “the percentage of women remaining employed rose, and women’s wages were higher” (95).  In France, families receive thousands in yearly subsidies (both health care and housing) and sure enough, the wage gap between mothers and other individuals is much smaller than it is in America (104).

Ultimately, the decision to become a mother is not as personal as it seems. Biologically speaking, women’s decision to have children is the only thing that can ensure our species’ survival.  But on a deeper level, if a mother chooses to stay home and raise her child, to teach her child right from wrong, to show her child warmth and love, she is raising a human that has the capabilities to benefit society in the long run.

That is a job every American should support.

Works Cited

*all references not linked come from the following text

Crittenden, Ann. 2001. The price of motherhood : why the most important job in the world is still the least valued / Ann Crittenden. n.p.: New York : Metropolitan Books, 2001.

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7 thoughts on “The Mommy Tax

  1. Ione, this is really well written. I, too, share an interest in the topic of women in relation to Economics. I knew before reading this blog post about the “fact” that women make ninety-eight cents to every man’s dollar, but didn’t know that it wasn’t a reliable statistic. Also, I think it’s interesting that people use it as a way to somehow show that women don’t have a disadvantage. Do they not take into account how those two cents can add up over a lifetime?

    I also wasn’t aware about this other disadvantage (the mommy tax) that women face. My feminism is even more flaming after reading this.

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  2. Ione, I feel as though way too often the economic benefits to a group of particular individuals outweigh the utilitarianism- or greater good for all. This is the perfect example of just that. People need to take into account the social benefits that directly stem from reproduction and at-home parenting. Women should not be penalized for this. Though you did not touch on this in your blog post, I’d be interested to know the economic setback men take when taking paternity leave and how it compares to that of a women taking maternity leave. It’s true what you said about “the mommy tax” not often being discussed in feminist movements today and I believe that should change!

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    • Emma- I definitely agree with you that placing the economic success of the few above the overall social good is flawed. Decreasing the wage gap would be beneficial for women, children, and as a result, all of society. I, too, am interested in how employers would react to men who wished to take paternity leave. Would they have an easier time negotiating with male bosses because their desire to take time off is given validity by their maleness? Or would their maleness, paired with the stereotype that men should “bring home the bacon” to their doting stay at home wives, decrease their validity? I do not know. However, Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood, asserts that the majority of managers believe that after the birth of a child, it is not appropriate for a father to ask for time off, or even to work part time (99). Given this flawed mindset on the part of the firm, I deduce that men would be hard pressed to find an employer who would willingly give them time off.

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  3. This is such a great point to bring up. It’s also a topic that seems as if it’s of much importance, yet it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot of recognition. You mention that they do it differently in Europe and it’s more fair to women (mom’s specifically). My question is whether the same system used in Europe can be brought to the United States and work better than what is going on now?

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    • Allie- I am very curious about the same thing. I would love for families to be given subsidies as family in France are. I also wonder how a nation wide policy mandating firms and employers to offer maternity and paternity leave would be accepted. If it is nationwide then everyone would have to do it, setting everyone economically “back” in roughly the same way. However, because sexist is prevailing I’m sure bosses would find a way around that. Since this is an issue rooted in sexism, that needs to be attacked first before the wage gap can actually close. And I’m not totally sure about how sexism will ever be defeated.

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  4. lewist502 says:

    I think this blog raises many interesting questions and also does a good job of questioning the way in which our society handles things like maternity. To me it seems that the having and rearing of children represents a positive externality. That is, we as a society benefit more from it than we are willing to pay for it. So, would you support a program in which we subsidize mothers for the wages they are sure to lose while having/rearing children, or do you feel this issue goes beyond what additional subsidization can fix?

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    • Lewis- I would definitely support a program that would subsidize mothers for the wages they are sure to lose. Though this would not ultimately solve the wage gap which, at its core, is about sexism, subsidizing mothers is only a bandaid on the larger problem. But a bandaid is a start!

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