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Women still struggle to hold financial ground after childbirth, despite 30 years of progress

A study from Cornell University observes that years of progress haven’t lessened the blow to women’s earning power after childbirth.

Women still struggle to hold financial ground after childbirth, despite 30 years of progress
[Source Images: Getty]

Progress in closing the gender pay gap hasn’t improved the crippling of women’s earning power after childbirth, says a new publication from Cornell University.

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According to its study, in the United States, mothers’ earnings drop significantly compared to those of fathers after the birth of a couple’s first child—a disparity that’s persisted across three decades, from the 1980s to the 2000s. Researchers concluded this from surveys of over 21,000 couples, along with their wage data, documented in tax records, for two years before and 10 years after they became parents.

During the 1980s, in the years following parenthood, the percent of a household’s income earned by a wife typically fell 13% (and the share earned by husbands presumably rose 13%). Back then, there was a brief period when women strode toward financial independence—but progress has since slowed to a crawl. By the 2000s, women’s share of their household income still fell by 10% following childbirth.

“The gender revolution has stalled, and women remain economically vulnerable,” Kelly Musick, a professor at Cornell’s school of public policy and a lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Across groups, wives become more financially dependent on their husbands after parenthood.”

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That’s especially worrisome as a sizable percentage of marriages end in divorce, and public support for single mothers is scant—for example, the U.S. differs from fellow wealthy nations in not federally mandating paid leave for workers after childbirth, or offering subsidized childcare for working families. Meanwhile, the COVID pandemic has only worsened prospects for mothers hoping to rejoin the workforce.

Notably, the financial blow to mothers was observed across all income brackets and education levels—which was surprising, Musick notes, as women with more degrees and greater socioeconomic status have made leaps toward gender equality in other aspects of life.

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