Working mothers earn less than their childless colleagues, but there’s one way to reduce the wage gap: Flexible work hours.
When women with children were able to work from home or choose their work hours, their wages went up, according to a University of British Columbia study recently published in the journal “Work and Occupations.” The wage gap between both categories of women was reduced by 68% when working mothers could choose their hours, and by 58% when they were able to work from home.
Mothers with postgraduate degrees saw the greatest difference. Those mothers earned 7% less than childless women without flexible hours, but when they did have the flexibility, they earned 12% more compared to childless women who had flexible hours, the study found. Researchers looked at data of nearly 21,000 women from Statistics Canada’s Workplace and Employee survey conducted between 1999 and 2005. About 58% of those women were mothers.
Women see a long-term gender wage gap compared to men of around 20% when they have children, according to a paper by researchers at Princeton University, the London School of Economics and the Ministry of Taxation in Denmark. An American woman in her 30s who does not have any children makes 15% more (or $5,000 per year) than one who does have a child, a separate study by career site Zippia found.
Why? Because of reduced labor force participation or hours of work, as well as the potential loss of promotions and raises. Wage discrepancies are more pronounced among some professionals, such as economists.
Employers tend to see mothers as less competent or committed, and have higher professional expectations and lower chances of hiring or promoting mothers, according to a 2007 report by Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program.
Mothers were six times less likely than childless women and 3.35 times less likely than childless men to be recommended for a job, and they saw a 7.9% lower starting salary offer than non-mothers and an 8.6% lower starting salary offer than fathers. Comparatively, fathers see higher starting salaries than their childless male counterparts.
So how do flexible work arrangements help? They allow mothers to work around their schedules, the UBC study found. Employers with flexible work arrangements are less worried about mothers being productive. Women tend to take time off from work, or reduce their hours, after childbirth, but flexible hours and telecommuting can help them maintain their working hours, according to a 2017 report by University of Kent researchers.
“This contributes to our understanding of flexible working not only as a tool for work-life balance, but also as a tool to enhance and maintain individuals’ work capacities in periods of increased family demands,” the study said.