The Surprising Ways The Gender Wage Gap Affects Families

PayScale’s two-year survey of 1.4 million employees reveals some surprising characteristics of the gender wage gap.

The Surprising Ways The Gender Wage Gap Affects Families
[Photo: Flickr user Grand Velas Riviera Maya]

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “mommy tax,” the idea that working women are penalized with a decrease in raises and opportunities after they have children because of the unconscious bias that they will be less committed to their careers. You may also be familiar with the converse phenomenon of the “daddy bonus,” in which men are viewed as more responsible after becoming fathers and are therefore rewarded with higher pay and promotions.


While other studies have shown that imbalance, a new massive survey of 1.4 million full-time employees from PayScale, an online crowdsourced salary database, gives a more detailed look into that trend. The survey asked employees about marital and family status, location, job type, industry, age, education, and other factors that affect pay for men and women.

To determine the differences in earnings between men and women working the same jobs, PayScale used its proprietary compensation algorithm to estimate a controlled median pay for women by adjusting for outside compensable factors across gender such as years of experience, education, company size, management responsibilities, skills, and other indicators. The researchers also presented an absolute wage gap picture based on uncontrolled median pay. This is where variables such as years of experience and education were not controlled.

The complete results reveal an even more layered landscape of inequality that goes well beyond a simple disparity in dollars.

Overall in any demographic, both the controlled and uncontrolled gender pay gap is highest between married men with children and married women with children at 4.6%. The lowest was between single women and men without kids at 0.6%.


PayScale’s study found that married men earn the highest overall salaries ($67,900 for men with children; $60,800 for those without). In sharp contrast are single moms who have the lowest overall salaries, both uncontrolled ($38,200), and when controlled ($45,500) for all measured compensable factors (experience, job, etc.).
This result alone makes other recent findings from Pew Research Center more stark. In 2013, four in 10 American households with children were headed up by a mother who was either the sole or primary earner for her family.

PayScale’s survey took a deeper dive into family obligations and how those tied into compensation as well. The largest gender pay gap (4.4%) between those with the same marital status exists between married mothers and married fathers who indicate that they prioritize family over work obligations between one and four times per year. It’s interesting to note that the number drops slightly to 4.3% when respondents said they prioritized family obligations at least once a week.

Some other findings among men and women with families:

Overall, men reported that they prioritize home/family obligations over work more frequently than women. That was 52% of men who responded that they made time at least one to two times per month as compared to 46% of women. Both male and female executives were more likely to say they prioritize home/family obligations over work obligations than workers in any other job level.

The more often a woman said that she prioritizes home/family over work, the larger the controlled gender pay gap becomes, even when compared to men with similar characteristics who say they prioritize home/family over work with the same frequency.

When looking at the overall numbers for men and women (not taking into account marital and family status), female boomers are the most likely to say that they never prioritize family obligations over professional obligations.


It’s not surprising that single men with no children are the most likely to say that they never prioritize family over professional obligations (27%), but married fathers are the least likely to say that they never prioritize family over professional obligations (13%). Single fathers, meanwhile, are the most likely to say that they prioritize family over work obligations once a week or more (26%).

Related: Sallie Krawcheck On The Benefits Of Investing In Women

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.