Social Indicators Research

, Volume 93, Issue 3, pp 569–586 | Cite as

Sacrificing Their Careers for Their Families? An Analysis of the Penalty to Motherhood in Europe

  • Vanessa Gash


This paper examines the extent of and the mechanisms behind the penalty to motherhood in six European countries. Each country provides different levels of support for maternal employment allowing us to determine institutional effects on labour market outcome. While mothers tend to earn less than non-mothers, the penalty to motherhood is considerably lower in countries with policy support for working mothers. The paper establishes the United Kingdom and West Germany to have the least policy support for working mothers as well as the largest penalties to motherhood.


Wages Maternal employment Cross-national analysis 



This paper was produced as part of the Economic Change, Quality of Life and Social Cohesion (EQUALSOC) Network of Excellence, funded by the European Commission (DG Research) as part of the Sixth Framework Programme. See editors’ introduction for further details. I would like to thank the following for their thoughts and commentary on earlier drafts of this paper. Participants at the EQUALSOC network conferences and workshops, my colleagues at Manchester University: Wendy Olsen, Colette Fagan and Jill Rubery, as well two anonymous referees. Though this paper benefited from the contributions of many, Fran McGinnity deserves special mention for her very incisive, considerate but nonetheless persistent feedback. Any remaining errors are my own.


  1. Avellar, S., & Smock, P. J. (2003). Has the price of motherhood declined over time? A cross-cohort comparison of the motherhood wage penalty. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(3), 597–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, G. (1991). A treatise on the family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Berrington, A., Yongjian Hu, P., Smith, W. F., & Sturgis, P. (2008). A graphical chain model for reciprocal relationships between women’s gender role attitudes and labour force participation. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 171, 89–108.Google Scholar
  4. Blau, D. (1991). Search for non-wage job characteristics: A test of the reservation wage hypothesis. Journal of Labour Economics, 9(2), 186–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Budig, M. J., & England, P. (2001). The wage penalty for motherhood. American Sociological Review, 66(2), 204–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Connolly, S., & Gregory, M. (2008). Moving down: Women’s part-time work and occupational change in britain, 1991–2001. Economic Journal, 118(526), 52–76.Google Scholar
  7. Correll, S. J., Benard, S., & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty? American Journal of Sociology, 112, 1297–1338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Datta Gupta, N., & Smith, N. (2002). Children and career interruptions. Economica, 69, 609–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davies, R., & Pierre, G. (2005). The family gap in pay in Europe: A cross-country study. Labour Economics, 12(4), 469–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Del Boca, D., & Wetzels, C. (2007). Social policies, labour markets and motherhood. UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Esping-Andersen, G. (1999). Social foundations of postindustrial economies. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eurostat. (2005). Gender gaps in the reconciliation between work and family life. Statistics in focus 4/2005. Brussels: Eurostat.Google Scholar
  13. Fortin, N. (2005). Gender role attitudes and the labour-market outcomes of women across OECD countries. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 12(3), 416–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gariety, B., & Shaffer, S. (2001). Wage differentials associated with flextime monthly. Labor Review, 124(3), 68–75.Google Scholar
  15. Gash, V. (2008). Preference or constraint? Part-time workers’ transitions in Denmark, France and the United-Kingdom. Work, Employment and Society, 22(4), 655–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gash, V., & McGinnity, F. (2007). Fixed-term contracts—The new European inequality? Comparing West Germany and France. Socio-Economic Review, 5(3), 467–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gash, V., Mertens, A., & Romeu-Gordo, L. (2007). Are fixed-term jobs bad for your health? A comparison of Spain and Germany. European Societies, 9(3), 429–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Glass, J. (2004). Blessing or curse? Work-family policies and mother’s wage growth over time. Work and Occupations, 31(3), 367–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gorgens, T. (2002). Reservation wages and working-hours for recently unemployed US women. Labour Economics, 9(1), 93–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Harkness, S., & Waldfogel, J. (2003). The family gap in pay: Evidence from seven industrialized countries. Research in Labor Economics, 22, 369–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hausman, J. A. (1978). Specification tests in econometrics. Econometrica, 46, 1251–1271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Himmelweit, S., & Sigala, M. (2005). Internal and external constraints on mothers’ employment. Journal of Social Policy, 33, 455–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Joshi, H., Paci, P., & Waldfogel, J. (1999). The wages of motherhood: Better or worse? Cambridge Journal of Economics, 23, 543–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kenjoh, E. (2005). New mothers’ employment and public policy in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Japan. Labour, 19, 5–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kilbourne, B. S., George, F., Beron, K., Weir, D., & England, P. (1994). Returns to skill compensating differentials, and gender bias: Effects of occupational characteristics on the wages of white women and men. American Journal of Sociology, 100(3), 689–719.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Neyer, G. (2003). Family policies and low fertility in western Europe. Germany: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research Working Paper.Google Scholar
  27. Nicoletti, C., & Tanturri, M. L. (2005). Differences in delaying motherhood across european countries: Empirical evidence from the echp. ISER working paper. European Jounal of Population, 24(2), 157–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. O’Connell, P. J., & Gash, V. (2003). The effects of working-time, segmentation and labour market mobility on wages and pensions in Ireland. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 41(1), 71–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. OECD. (2001). Employment outlook. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.Google Scholar
  30. Petersen, T., Penner, A. & Hogsnes, G. (2007). The motherhood wage penalty: Sorting versus differential pay. Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Working Paper Series, Paper number 156-07.Google Scholar
  31. Polavieja, J. G. (2007). Occupational sex composition and earnings: Individual and societal effects. DemoSoc Working Paper, 2007-22. Department of Political and Social Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.Google Scholar
  32. Russell, H., & O’Connell, P. (2001). Getting a job in Europe: The transition from unemployment to work among young people in nine European countries. Work, Employment and Society, 15, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Smith, A. (1976). An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. In R. H. Campbell (Ed.), Works and correspondence of adam smith. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Viitanen, T. K. (2005). Cost of childcare and female employment in the UK. Labour, 19, 149–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Waldfogel, J. (1997). The effect of children on women’s wages. American Sociological Review, 62(2), 209–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wooldridge, (2000). Introductory econometrics: A modern approach. Cincinnati: South-Western College Publishing.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cathie March Centre for Census and Survey Research (CCSR), School of Social SciencesUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

Personalised recommendations