Don't Let Motherhood Affect Your Pay

Research shows that, in general, having children is correlated with their mothers earning less money. This wage penalty for a woman is about 4% per child. (Men on the other hand get wage increases when they become fathers). Even among workers with comparable qualifications, experience, work hours and jobs, having children reduces women’s earnings, according to one recent report.

Mothers are breadwinners in 50% of U.S. households (defined as either a single mother, or she earns 40% or more of the household income), so this income shrinkage hurts the whole family, and comes just when expenses are shooting higher. Even the mother’s costs for her labor and delivery can be in the thousands of dollars. Then there’s baby gear, diapers, formula and the rising costs of child care.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates a middle-income family will spend about $245,340 to raise a child up to the age of 18. The cost of a new baby in the first year alone is between $10,000 and $30,000 depending on where you live and how much you earn, according to a USDA calculator. For example, new parents in the Northeast end up paying much more for their newborn’s needs, compared to those in rural areas or in the South.

Add in the additional costs from prenatal care through college, and this may explain nearly one in five U.S. women remain childless, many of them childless by choice.

But despite this general trend, other data suggest that if you want children and a hefty paycheck, there are certain ways to make that happen. Consider the following two life decisions which could allow women to continue to earn a lot, even after they have children.

1: Choose from among the Highest Paying Jobs

Women who are among the top-earning 10% of female workers don’t see their earnings fall after they have children. That means, if you’re earning more than $90,480 per year, your wages might well hold steady, even after you become a mother.

Occupations that are most likely to get you to this level include these high paying jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Doctors and Dentists
  • Chief Executive
  • Petroleum Engineer
  • Architectural and engineering manager
  • Air Traffic Controller
  • Computer and Information Systems managers
  • Marketing managers

Other ways a significant number of women in the U.S. work and earn high wages are as pharmacists, lawyers, software engineers, medical managers and nurse practitioners, according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Of course, most of these jobs require many years of education and training, and potentially high levels of student loans. You might also need to gain some seniority in your field before you reach the higher paying levels of the job, which leads to a second tip.

2: Wait Until You’re Older to Have Kids

Typically, women who wait until their late 30s or 40s to have children earn significantly more than women who had children earlier. This is true for almost every occupational group, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The differences become even more pronounced in professional and managerial occupations.

Earnings Gap for 40-50 Year old Women by Children’s Age

The median woman whose children are under five when she’s in her 40s earns $7,859 more per year than the median woman who has children just a few years older. If these women are in professional or managerial occupations, such as business, engineering, science or healthcare, the difference increases to $10,295 per year. And in some fields, the gap becomes quite astounding. Women in the legal profession earn $32,407 more per year when they have children later, compared to female lawyers who had kids a little bit earlier.

But even delaying childbirth by a single year when you’re very young can have a big impact, another research study found. It led to a 10% increase in a woman’s career earnings. For the median U.S. woman working full-time, who earns $37,960 per year, the difference over a 40-year career would be about $159,432.

While the joys of children may well be priceless, the income bump a woman gets if she waits to have them could go a long way towards paying for the many costs that kick in once the baby arrives.

Sterling Price

Sterling Price is a research analyst at ValuePenguin specializing in health and life insurance. He graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelors degree in Finance and Accounting and has previous experience as a licensed life insurance representative.