Motherhood, labor force behavior, and women’s careers: An empirical assessment of the wage penalty for motherhood in britain, germany, and the united states

Abstract

Using harmonized longitudinal data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP), and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), we trace career prospects after motherhood for five cohorts of American, British, and West German women around the 1960s. We establish wage penalties for motherhood between 9% and 18% per child, with wage losses among American and British mothers being lower than those experienced by mothers in Germany. Labor market mechanisms generating the observed wage penalty for motherhood differ markedly across countries, however. For British and American women, work interruptions and subsequent mobility into mother-friendly jobs fully account for mothers’ wage losses. In contrast, respective penalties are considerably smaller in Germany, yet we observe a substantial residual wage penalty that is unaccounted for by mothers’ observable labor market behavior. We interpret this finding as indicating a comparatively more pronounced role for statistical discrimination against mothers in the German labor market.

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The article is part of the European Science Foundation ECRP project “Human Capital Effects of the Welfare State.” The authors gratefully acknowledge support by the German Science Foundation (DFG). The data used in this study were kindly provided by the German Institute for Economic Research, Berlin (GSOEP); the UK Data Archive at the University of Essex (BHPS); and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, DC (NLSY). Of course, none of these institutions bears any responsibility for the use made of the data or for the inferences drawn by the authors. Earlier versions of the article were presented at the 2004 meeting of the German Sociological Association; at the 2006 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association; and at seminars at the University of Berne, Switzerland, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We thank all participants at those presentations as well as Suzanne M. Bianchi, Kenneth Hill, Kenneth Land, and the anonymous reviewers for many insightful comments on earlier versions of the article. The author listing is alphabetical. Demography, Volume 46-Number 2, May 2009: 341-369

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Gangl, M., Ziefle, A. Motherhood, labor force behavior, and women’s careers: An empirical assessment of the wage penalty for motherhood in britain, germany, and the united states. Demography 46, 341–369 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.0.0056

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Keywords

  • Labor Market
  • British Household Panel Surve
  • Wage Penalty
  • German Woman
  • Work Interruption