mariko lin chang

Even women who continue to work full-time after becoming mothers are at an economic disadvantage. Women experience a motherhood wage penalty that cannot be explained by work experience, education, and other factors that are typically associated with one’s earnings. When researchers take into account differences related to earnings such as job experience, educational attainment, and previous part-time employment, they find that mothers receive a 4% wage penalty for the first child and a 12% penalty for each additional child.

Why should mothers earn less, even after differences in work histories and educational attainment are taken into account? Research suggests that mothers earn less because the stereotypes associated with motherhood cause them to be perceived as less capable in the workplace and less worthy of raises and promotions. Good mothers are considered to be nurturing, always available for their children, willing to place their children’s welfare above their own, and continually directing their time and attention to their children. Although research shows that employed mothers are no less committed to their work than are other employees, they suffer economic losses because of the expectation that mothers cannot be fully committed to both work and family.

In other words, their performance, contributions, and effort are less favorably perceived simply because the role of mother is viewed as incompatible with the role of the ideal worker (in which one is expected to be available at all times for work). In her book Opting Out?, sociologist Pamela Stone reveals that many women are “pushed” out when they are given less challenging work or fewer opportunities because of the perception that having children rendered them less committed to career advancement or made them “flight risks.”

In contrast, fatherhood is typically perceived as increasing a man’s commitment to work because his family responsibilities indicate he will be more devoted to work in order to fulfill his duties as a “good provider.” In fact, in contrast to the motherhood wage penalty, research indicates men’s wages increase by 9% with the birth of their first child. Moreover, in comparison to childless men, fathers are viewed as more committed to their work and are offered higher starting salaries.
—  Mariko Lin Chang, Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It
Single mothers fare worse economically in the United States than in most other industrialized countries because the United States is less generous with respect to anti-poverty programs and because of the lack of high-quality and affordable child care. Policies designed to reduce the women’s wealth gap must address the additional barriers that prevent single parents from gaining access to the wealth escalator.

The cost of child care is one of the largest obstacles limiting the ability of single parents to make ends meet. It reduces their already limited disposable income and jeopardizes their ability to engage in saving or investment. Low-income single parents face the greatest difficulties obtaining affordable quality child care. The National Women’s Law Center reports that in 2001, 40% of poor, single, working mothers paid at least half of their income for child care and another 25% paid between 40% and 50% of their income on child care expenses.
—  Mariko Lin Chang, Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It
Compared to other industrialized countries, the United States exhibits particularly extreme wealth inequality. The tremendous disparity in wealth is the greatest economic fault line in American society and one that is becoming even deeper: between 1983 and 2004, the top 1% experienced a 78% increase in their average wealth whereas the bottom 40% of the wealth distribution saw their wealth decline by 59%. Another way to examine wealth inequality is to compare the wealthiest Americans to the typical American (as represented by the median). In 1962, the wealthiest 1% of Americans held 125 times the median wealth, and by 2004, the wealthiest 1% of Americans held 190 times as much wealth as the typical American.

If we examine how wealth is distributed across society, we can observe inequities that are hidden by the distribution of income. For example, never-married women working full-time earn 95% as much as never-married men working full-time, but women in that group own only 16% as much wealth: never-married men working full-time have a median wealth of $20,000 whereas their female counterparts have a median wealth of $3,150.

This comparison is even more striking given the fact that the wealth gap is much larger for never-married women than for other groups of women, even those who experience a much larger earnings gap. In today’s tough economy, when layoffs are frequent and unemployment is at record levels, never-married women have a much smaller safety net than other workers. They have very limited resources should they lose their job or face unexpected medical bills or other emergencies.
—  Mariko Lin Chang, Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It
The motherhood wealth tax includes a motherhood wage penalty, restricted access to the wealth escalator, and, for single mothers, the financial burden of being a sole custodial parent. Until men and women share equal financial responsibility for raising their children, the gender wealth gap will persist.

Although fathers are increasingly seeking and being granted custody of children, 84% of custodial parents are mothers. As long as women are more likely than men to have custody of children, they will inevitably shoulder more of the economic burden of parenthood.

Never-married single mothers experience the most difficult situation, with 50% living in poverty. In comparison, 29% of never-married single fathers, 25% of divorced single mothers, and 14% of divorced single fathers live in poverty. Without a doubt, the economic costs of single parenthood are typically shouldered mostly by women. The burden of single parenthood is magnified by the fact that most custodial parents do not receive adequate child support. Less than half of all single parents receive the full child support due to them, and almost one-fourth of those awarded child support receive nothing.

And even when parents do receive child support, it often does not rise adequately with inflation and usually does not equalize the heavier financial burden placed on the custodial parent. Since women are more likely to have custody of children, they typically find that they must make ends meet without adequate financial support.
—  Mariko Lin Chang, Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealthy and What Can Be Done About It