Parenthood, employment and the 'child penalty'

Professor Maureen Baker presented findings from her research 'Academic Careers and the Gender Gap' at a seminar in the Combining Parenting and a Career seminar series. She showed how, compared to men, women tend to make more employment-related concessions for children, especially if they pursue high-level careers, or parent without a partner.

Although most men and women in her study wanted to become parents, emotional and physical care was seldom shared evenly. This resulted in reduced career progression and income for women with children. Professor Baker noted that women who worked part-time for a prolonged period did not receive the salary increases of full-time employees. This not only contributed to a gender pay gap but also to a parenting pay gap. The salary difference between childless women and women with three children or more was greater than the salary difference between men and women.

The implications of Professor Baker’s research were that equal sharing of domestic work and childcare are essential for gender parity. Employers need to acknowledge the work involved in parenting and ensure appropriate support is provided through paid parental leave, family related leave, subsidised and employment-based childcare. She also noted that women’s career advancement could often benefit from mentoring and the availability of more information about the consequences of the choices they make.

The audience was particularly interested in implications the research may have for Māori parents and ethnic group members. While this area was not addressed directly in the study, it was noted that some women may have greater support from their extended families, but this support is often accompanied by greater family responsibilities. There was also discussion about how women with supportive partners may more opportunities for out-of-hours activities such as business trips. These opportunities could ultimately lead to enhanced career prospects and higher salaries than for single mothers with less family support.