The Wage Gap For Moms Is Worse Than You Thought

Today in research that will make your eyes bleed frustration tears, a Danish study published in multi-disciplinary journal PLOS ONE found that a woman can decrease her wage gap by holding off on getting pregnant until it becomes dangerous, difficult, or impossible to do so. How helpful! The study looked at 14 years of data representing 1.6 million Danish women between the ages of 25 and 60 to determine how their earnings were affected by the age at which they had children.

Even though Denmark is consistently spotted topping charts of countries with the best maternity leave policies in place — Danish women got 52 weeks of paid maternity leave in 2011 — those women still suffer from a wage gap. And that gap increases the younger they are when they have children.

The study found that, when college-educated women have their first child before the age of 25, they suffer a lifetime income loss of 204 percent less than the average annual income. Women who wait until age 31 to have children have significantly higher earnings over a lifetime, but the only way to "catch up" to the lifetime earnings of women who never have children is to wait until after age 35 to have your first child.

While plenty of women manage to have healthy babies after 35, fertility problems, genetic issues, and C-section rates all spike for women after age 35. But the financial alternative is, as the study puts it, "a large and unambiguous...reduction in labor income."

Plus, an American co-author on the study speculated that the effect would likely be even stronger on American women, because our income growth potential is greater than that of Danish women.

As serious a problem as the wage gap is, this particular study is an even more devastating gut-punch to women who hope to have children and continue growing their incomes. Women who want or have kids are already dropping out of the race for executive positions in favor of more flexibly structured work hours and responsibilities. If the ones who want kids also don't have a hope of preserving their earning potential unless they hold off pregnancy until a potentially dangerous age, then what choices are we realistically giving women?

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