By Thandi Skade
Destiny Magazine, December 5, 2016 —


Making the decision to take time off from work to raise your children could cost you up to 10% of your earnings per child, new research has found.

If given the option, most mothers would jump at the opportunity to take a mini-break from the working world to raise their children, particularly in the early formative years of their lives.

Even if you’re in the financial position to afford to stay at home, a new study entitled Do highly paid, highly skilled women experience the largest motherhood penalty? and recently published in the American Sociological Review has found that taking time off to raise children can be damaging to women’s careers, particularly those who are highly skilled and high earning.

A study that tracked 4 658 women in the US between 1976 and 2010 found that lower skilled and lower earning white women were penalised anything between 4% and 7% of their income per child when they returned to work, while highly skilled and top earning white women lost an average of 10% of their salary once they returned to the corporate world.

By contrast, researchers found that so-called motherhood penalties for black women were slightly lower than their white counterparts, but the penalty didn’t differ significantly by skill or wage.

“In the case of highly skilled white women with high wages, what is striking is that they have the highest penalties despite the fact that they have the most continuous work experience of any group of women, which other things being equal, would reduce their penalties,” study author and professor of sociology at New York University Paula England said.

“Their high returns to experience and tenure mean that loss of every year of work caused by motherhood is much more costly for their future wages, even in proportionate terms, than it is for other groups of women.”

England said that given the privilege that white women have, particularly those in high paying jobs, she suggests that priority should be given to policies like childcare subsidies to assist low-income women.

Men on the other-hand, seem to get rewarded and not punished when they become fathers, with men on average receiving a 6% bonus simply because having children is perceived as men showing commitment and stability.

From a local perspective, Liz Dutshego, CEO of a leadership development and coaching consultancy, says South African women are often overlooked for promotions on account of the responsibilities they face as a result of being a mom.

“Women, particularly mothers, have a greater responsibility than men in taking care of the family. This robs them of the benefits of being noticed by decision-makers. Even when they do form support structures to assist with their family responsibilities, they are still not perceived as suitable candidates for promotion into top management because decision makers often assume that mothers have domestic responsibilities that make it inappropriate to promote them to demanding positions,” she penned in an article for Leadership.

Dutshego says that women who are considering taking a career to raise their children should be advised that it could prove to be something of a career-limiting move further down the line.

“One’s ability to maintain continuous service in one organisation is crucial for promotions. Therefore, taking a career break could be a career-limiting move. Often, after maternity leave, women change their role or seek a new position in a new firm, usually outside the industry in which they worked prior to having a child. This greatly affects their chances of advancing to top management,” she wrote.

Prior research has also shown that some US companies are inclined to employ a less qualified person over a woman who may have been on maternity leave and out of the workplace for over six months because the assumption is that your extended absence from the corporate world means that your skill level has deteriorated and that you may somehow have become irrelevant.

“Those who seek work after being out of corporate for over 10 years are considered to be more out of tune, as their skills are perceived to have reached their ‘sell-by’ date. They are confronted with the unconscious bias of gender, age and lack of recent experience. Despite their enviable qualifications and great track records, they are often discriminated against in favour of younger candidates and assumed to be unambitious, low in self-confidence and inflexible,” Dutshego wrote.