Today, married couples in the United States are likely to have similar educational and career backgrounds. So while the typical husband still earns more than his wife, spouses have increasingly similar incomes. But that changes once their first child arrives.
Immediately after the first birth, the pay gap between spouses doubles, according to a recent study — entirely driven by a drop in the mother’s pay. Men’s wages keep rising. The same pattern shows up in a variety of research.
But the recent study reveals a twist. When women have their first child between age 25 and 35, their pay never recovers, relative to that of their husbands. Yet women who have their first baby either before 25 or after 35 — before their careers get started or once they’re established — eventually close the pay gap with their husbands.
The years between 25 to 35 happen to be both the prime career-building years and the years when most women have children.
The study — a working paper published by the Census Bureau in November — is one of several recent papers that show that children account for much of the remaining gender pay gap. That gap has narrowed significantly over the past four decades, as women have gotten more education and entered male-dominated professions, but a divide remains.
Women who have babies late typically have different career paths from those who have them early. Those who first give birth in their late 30s tend to be more educated with higher-earning jobs, while those who have babies in their early 20s have less education and lower earnings.
Low earners have a smaller pay gap in general, and people who have babies in their late 30s could have a smaller pay gap because they are less likely to have more than one child. But the fact that both groups of women recover their earnings, relative to their husbands, suggests there’s also something about having children outside the prime career-building years that hurts women’s pay less, no matter the occupation.
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