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Better Business Basics

ANTONINA ESPIRITU

Sunday, December 16, 2001


Pay penalty for women
with children is due
to old biases


Economists and politicians continue to discuss and take note of the narrowing of the gender gap in pay in recent years. Although women in general have made progress in the labor market, women with children seem to have a different story.

I recently read an article entitled, "Understanding the Family Gap in Pay for Women with Children." The author noted that "even after controlling for differences in characteristics such as education and work experience, researchers typically find a family penalty in pay of 10 percent to 15 percent for women with children as compared to women without children."

She further noted that "having children had positive or no effects for men, but very strong negative effects on women's wages."

She then concluded that "the greatest barrier to economic equality is children."

Fundamentally, to have or not to have children is indeed an economic and a personal decision one has to make. Faced with a 24-hour a day constraint, one has to make a choice how much time to spend at work versus raising a family.

Although it may seem possible to do both with the blessings of Internet technology and other network innovations that help us get connected anywhere, anytime, the more personal question of "quality time" spent with our family versus work lingers.

For society as a whole, it is important to address the family gap problem if we are to use fully the human capital of all women -- including those with children. Hence, we need to turn our attention to family policies like childcare provision, maternity leave and flexible work hours.

The passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993 can be viewed as a step in the right direction, but we need to do more.

Although the notion of equality may be elusive, I do not agree that the "greatest barrier to economic equality is children."

I think that the family gap in pay is just derived from a lingering gender gap problem. The findings of higher wages for married men with children versus women with children is an indication that our society expects, if not dictates, women's greater responsibility in raising children and consequently, spending more time away from other work.

So, to remove the family gap problem, we need to remove the gender gap problem. Our society needs to forge ahead with providing full equality of pay and opportunity for women.


Antonina Espiritu is an assistant professor of economics at Hawaii Pacific University. She can be reached at aespiritu@hpu.edu.



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