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Is There a Motherhood Penalty? Decomposing the Family Wage Gap in Colombia


The aim of this paper is to provide an estimation and decomposition of the motherhood wage penalty in Colombia. Our empirical strategy was based on the matching procedure designed by Ñopo (The Review of Economics and Statistics, 90(2), 290–299, 2008a) for the case of gender wage gaps. This is an alternative procedure to the well-known Blinder–Oaxaca decomposition method. Using the cross-sectional data of the Colombian Living Standard Survey, the wage gap was decomposed into four components, according to the characteristics of mothers and non-mothers. Three of the components are explained by differences in observable characteristics of women, while the other is the unexplained part of the gap. We found that mothers earn, on average, 1.73 % less than their counterparts without children and that this gap slightly decreased when the group included older women. It is observed from the results that, once schooling was included as a matching variable, the unexplained part of the gap considerably decreased and became non-significant. Thus, we did not find evidence of wage discrimination against mothers in the Colombian labor market.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Ñopo et al. (2011) studied the evolution of the gender gap at an international level. Firestone et al. (1999) provided evidence of how gender role attitudes can explain gender earning differences.

  2. 2.

    Let us recall that the support of a probability distribution is the closure of the set of possible values of a random variable having that distribution. That is, the set of points that belongs to the distribution.

  3. 3.

    Previous works used a semi-parametric setup to explore the distribution of unexplained differences in wages (DiNardo et al., 1996; Donald et al., 2000; Barsky et al., 2002).

  4. 4.

    The common support is the region where the supports of the distributions of characteristics for mothers and non-mothers completely overlap.

  5. 5.

    Colombian Living Standard Survey of 2008.

  6. 6.

    The information requirements are higher for this type of techniques. If the researcher only counts with cross-section data (as in our case) and not with panel data, the set of estimation techniques shrinks.

  7. 7.

    This dummy is equal to 1 if the woman works full time and 0 otherwise.

  8. 8.

    This procedure could be done in statistical packages such as SAS and Stata. In fact, Ñopo provided a Stata program that allowed us to do the whole matching procedure and gave the results of the earnings gap (Δ) and each of its components.

  9. 9.

    \( S^{{\overline{M} }} (S^{{\overline{N} }} ) \)corresponds to the set of characteristics that mothers (non-mothers) do not reach.

  10. 10.

    See Ñopo (2008a) to check the whole procedure.

  11. 11.

    This survey has been carried out since 1993 with other applications in 1997 and 2003. However, previous questionnaires did not include specific questions about fertility which prevented us from making comparisons over time.

  12. 12.

    However, the difference between the wage of mothers working full-time and those working part-time was not statistically significant, the same as the case of the wage difference between non-mothers working full-time and part-time.

  13. 13.

    The estimations before correcting the selection bias are shown in Table 8 in Appendix.

  14. 14.

    It is worth noting that different specifications of the schooling variable (three and seven categories) provide highly similar results and they are available upon request.


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The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from Universidad Icesi. We also thank Hugo Ñopo, Ximena Peña, Natalia González, Juan Carlos Guataquí, Nohora Forero, and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions. The reviewers’ constructive assessments helped us to improve the quality of the paper. Finally, we thank Adriana Caicedo for helpful research assistance.

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Correspondence to Blanca Zuluaga.



Table 8 Matching wage gap decomposition with no correction of the selection bias

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Gamboa, L.F., Zuluaga, B. Is There a Motherhood Penalty? Decomposing the Family Wage Gap in Colombia. J Fam Econ Iss 34, 421–434 (2013).

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  • Family wage gap
  • Childbearing costs
  • Female wages

JEL Classifications

  • J3
  • J7