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Having Kids Is Terrible for Women’s Earning Power

Bloomberg’s The Pay Check returns for an in-depth look at how motherhood explains so much of the $28 trillion global gender-pay gap

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Illustration: Pamela Guest The Motherhood Penalty by The Pay Check

Babies are cute. They’re soft, they often smell nice and—let’s face it—they’re necessary for the survival of the human race.

But for women, the arrival of a baby dovetails with a significant economic event: the moment when their earning power starts to lag their male peers’. At the beginning of their careers, men’s and women’s income are practically equivalent. By the time everyone’s in their mid-40s, women on average make as little as 55 percent of what men do.

Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University and an expert on the gender pay gap, says that most—but not all—of that difference can be traced to women working at least a little less than men do. Or at least working less for pay: her research finds that women often pull back from their careers because their unpaid work—raising and caring for a child—becomes more demanding.