Skip to content

6 December 2021

The other side of the mountain: women’s employment and earnings over the family cycle

Women earn less than men, and that is especially true of mothers relative to fathers. Much of the widening occurs with family formation.

We estimate two earnings and hours gaps: (1) that due to the ‘motherhood penalty’, which is the difference between the earnings and hours of women who are currently mothers and those who are not; and (2) that due to the ‘parental gender gap’, which is the difference in outcomes between mothers and fathers.

Women with young children work far fewer hours per week than do others. But what happens on the ‘other side of the mountain’ as the children grow up and eventually leave home? The answer is that women work more hours and transition to higher-earning positions.

The motherhood penalty is greatly reduced, and by their 50s women with and without children earn nearly the same amount. But fathers manage to maintain their relative gains and do monumentally better than mothers, women without children and men without children. Fathers earn almost 7 log points more per child regardless of their age, whereas mothers lose more than 10 log points per child, holding hours of work constant.

Cite this as:

Goldin, C., Kerr, S. P. and Olivetti, C. (2021), ‘The other side of the mountain: women’s employment and earnings over the family cycle’, IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities, https://ifs.org.uk/inequality/womens-employment-and-earnings-over-the-family-cycle