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Labor Market Penalties for Mothers in Italy


We use a large Italian employer-employee matched dataset to study how motherhood affects women’s working career in terms of labor force participation and wages. We confirm that the probability of exiting employment significantly increases for mothers of pre-school children; however, this is mitigated by higher job quality, human capital endowment and childcare accessibility. Most importantly, the availability of part-time jobs reduces their probability of moving out of the labor force. Women not leaving employment after becoming mothers experience lower wages than women with no pre-school child, and there are no signs of this gap closing 5 years after childbirth. Contrary to previous literature, the wage gap penalty emerges only among women working full-time, thanks to the high protection accorded to part-time jobs in Italy.

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  1. Molina and Monuenga (2009) and Fernández-Kranz et al. (2010).

  2. In Europe, only 25 % of mothers return to work before the child is 1 year old, whereas large differences emerge among countries as the child grows: in the U.K., 50 % of mothers are already working by the time the child is 2 years old, while in Ireland this happens only when the child is 3 years old.

  3. They use the LIS (Luxemburg Income Study), controlling for earnings-related characteristics. Italy is not included in this comparative study.

  4. As discussed in “Empirical Analysis”.

  5. Ariza et al. (2005); Del Boca et al. (2009). In Waldfogel (1997) and in Fernández-Kranz et al. (2010) part-time employment is an important component in explaining the family gap in pay. See also Newell and Joshi (1986), Dex et al. (1998) and Joshi et al. (1999) for the U.K. and Ellingsaeter and Rönsen (1996) for Norway. Del Boca et al. (2005 and 2009) highlight a positive effect of part-time work on female participation in Italy, but they do not consider wages.

  6. In the empirical analysis we focus on a sample of working women who became mothers between 1993 and 1997, thus the extension of parental leave to fathers is non-influential for our analysis.

  7. Source: Del Boca (2002).


  9. The situation is different in the public sector, which is, however, excluded from our empirical analysis.

  10. Sometimes even more than full-time work (Ariza et al. 2005).

  11. D.L. 61/2000.

  12. In fact the use of temporary and flexible contracts in Italy spread only after the 1997 reform. In general, flexible and temporary workers receive less protection and lower hourly wages than permanent workers.

  13. Full details on the WHIP archive can be found at

  14. See ILO statistics (

  15. We exclude the self-employed (less than 10 % of female employment), as their careers and their wages are affected by large measurement error.

  16. This survey is available only for the year 2002.

  17. Maternity leaves recorded by INPS cover all maternity events among dependent workers. In fact, there are no eligibility criteria for maternity payments among dependent employees. Only the self employed, free-lance and agricultural workers must meet eligibility criteria, but they are excluded both from our analysis and from our comparison with ISTAT data.

  18. We further selected the sample to include only women aged 23–45, so that potential students working part-time are excluded. This more restrictive setup yields the same results as presented in the text.

  19. We use this label because we cannot determine whether women have children born before t = −4 or not. In any case in t = 0 they would be entering primary school (or be even older).

  20. In the database we do not observe the date in which the delivery occurs, but only that the worker receives maternity benefits. The leave can span years, so we impose the condition on our subsample of mothers that they have not been on maternity leave again in t = 3 to t = 5. In t = 1 and t = 2 they can have parental leave periods to look after the first child.

  21. Unfortunately, no robustness checks on this point are possible in our dataset, as the necessary selection of women highly attached to the labor market and the short observation period after t = 0 make it unobservable the effect of an eventual second child on the subsequent working career of the mother.

  22. The word “cohort” refers to the year of birth of the child (t = 0) not to that of the mother. For women with no pre-school children we use the same word to refer to women in the control group for “mothers of a pre-school child in t = 0”.

  23. Pooling five cohorts and imposing on them the same attachment to the labor market does not generate any selection of working women over time because participation rates (also controlling for education) and female youth unemployment rate have remained constant over the decade of interest (see Del Boca et al. 2012); hence our selection can be regarded as constant in the period we consider.

  24. We cut non-employment spells shorter than 12 months, to exclude frictional unemployment (more details below).

  25. For the sake of simplicity, we sometimes skip the specification “of a pre-school child” although always referring to them.

  26. The probability of moving to part-time work, conditional on observable characteristics, is also significantly different between mothers and non-mothers. The results are not reported, but are available upon request.

  27. Real wages are deflated using the official inflation index provided by Italian Statistics on the basket of consumption of families of blue and white collar workers (famiglie di operai e impiegati).

  28. It is possible to select sub-samples of women, as the hypothesis of no ex-ante job selection of future mothers is supported by the data, i.e., the selection is not endogenous (see “Conclusion”).

  29. The use of subsamples is allowed as long as the common trend identifying assumption required for a DID estimator holds, conditional on x. As x includes job characteristics (identified by job movers), we have no reason to believe that the assumption is violated.

  30. During the 5 months of compulsory maternity leave women receive 80 % of their salary from social security and 20 % from the employer, while during the following 6 months of optional maternity leave they receive 30 % of their salary from social security. Hence, after childbirth we observe an artificial drop in wages since WHIP records only payments made by employers and not by social security.

  31. Part-time jobs can be a trap that mothers cannot leave at will, i.e. it might be difficult to move back from part-time to full-time employment. However, at 5 years of age children are not at compulsory school yet, hence mothers might still be postponing the attempt to move back to a full-time job.

  32. Our own calculations.


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Correspondence to Lia Pacelli.

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We thank Daniela Del Boca, Christopher Flinn, Roberto Leombruni and Chiara Pronzato for their useful comments. The usual disclaimers apply.



Table 8 Estimated log-wage differentials: coefficients from Eq. (2)

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Pacelli, L., Pasqua, S. & Villosio, C. Labor Market Penalties for Mothers in Italy. J Labor Res 34, 408–432 (2013).

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