Parenthood Wage Gaps across the Life-Course: An Intersectional Comparison by Gender and Race

Objective: Parenthood wage gaps are mapped over the life course for white, Black and Hispanic men and women by the number of children in the US.

Background: For white women, research indicates that motherhood penalties only persist over the life course if they have three or more children. It is unknown how stable parenthood wage gaps are for fathers and mothers of other racial backgrounds.

Methods: Age-specific parenthood wage gaps from ages 20-45 are estimated using data from the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Studies of Youth (NLSY79 and NLSY97) and fixed effects models.

Results: Only white women with three or more children suffer an adjusted motherhood penalty at age 45. For Black and Hispanic mothers, penalties are concentrated around age 30 and then attenuate irrespective of the number of children. Fatherhood premiums are confined to very early adulthood for white men.

Conclusions: Parenthood wage gaps are concentrated in brief periods of the life course. Enduring penalties only occur for white mothers with many children and signify white women’s advantage compared to women of color in two respects: 1) the penalty occurs relative to high earnings of childless white women, which are unattainable for childless women of color, and 2) white mothers with many children enjoy higher household incomes compared to their Black and Hispanic peers, which decreases the economic pressure to earn own income.

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Intersectional inequalities in work and family life courses by gender and race

Which privileges and constraints do members of differently empowered groups face when combining work and family? Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), we analyze intersectional inequalities in work and family life courses at the intersection of gender and race. We focus on work-family life courses of black and white men and women from an intersectional quantitative life course perspective. Results from recent techniques in sequence analysis show a weak link between work and family lives for white men. They typically have the privilege of possibility to combine any type of family life course with any type of work career. In contrast, family formation processes tend to constrain work careers and vice versa for other groups at the intersection of gender and race. We contribute to the literature by showing the privilege of possibilities for white men and specific constraints that black and white women, and black men face when combining family and work life. Among others, findings also highlight a sizeable group of resourceful black single mothers, who hold stable middle class jobs. They often go unnoticed in previous research with a deficit orientation on a group of black early single mothers who muddle through precarious instable careers and welfare dependence that we also find in our study.

Alessandro Di Nallo: Job loss and divorce: worse for disadvantaged couples?

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In Episode 12 of the DIAL Podcast, Alessandro Di Nallo from the University of Lausanne talks about his research looking at the links between job loss and divorce for couples to see if the likelihood of separating is greater for more or less advantaged couples.

The heterogeneous effect of job loss on union dissolution. Panel evidence from Germany, Switzerland and the UK is research presented at the DIAL Mid Term Conference in June 2019.

Dilnoza Muslimova: Birth rank – does it make a difference?

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In Episode 11 of the DIAL Podcast, Dilnoza Muslimova from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam talks about birth rank, genes and how well children get on in life and whether and how parental investment matters. 

Birth rank, genes and later life outcomes was presented at the DIAL Mid Term Conference in June 2019 and is part of the NORFACE-funded project Gene-Environment Interplay in the Generation of Health and Education Inequalities. 

Michael Grätz: Siblings and their incomes – the same or different over the life course?

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In Episode 10 of the Dial Podcast, Michael Grätz from the University of Stockholm talks about sibling similarity in income and what that tells us about their life chances later on.  The research, which uses Administrative Data in Sweden and is published as a Working Paper, was also presented at the DIAL mid term conference in June 2019. 

Country report: Sweden

The DAISIE project explores the gendered impacts of policies and practices aimed at extending working life (EWL) in five contrasting national settings (the Czech Republic, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK), using a mixed methods research design inspired by insights from life-course and gender studies. The project addresses two significant and timely issues: labour market participation in later life and the influence of labour market and family trajectories on the experiences of older workers in different national and occupational contexts.

This report explores the issue of extending working life in the Swedish context. It begins by discussing the Swedish gender equality politics, which follows by a presentation of the pension system, pension trends and obstacles against an extended working life. The processes towards an extended working life illustrates the difficulties in implementing gender equality in practice. In the Swedish debate on raised retirement age, older women’s and men’s equal opportunity to work into old age is not identified as a core issue, although this is an essential goal of the general gender equality policy in Sweden. Nor has the gender segregated labour market been emphasised to any great extent, despite being at the heart of gender inequalities in terms of wages, pensions and sick leave and parental leave. It is further shown that the argument for an extended working life is mainly based on demographic statistics and economic arguments about the sustainability of the Swedish welfare and pension systems, while organisational factors, such as ageism and age norms in work organisations have not highlighted as a real obstacle to older people’s participation in working life. Finally, it is argued that the Swedish gender equality project also has to include the older age groups and that the question of extended working life is an example of contemporary gender equality issues.

Nirosha Varghese: Sleep tight! Does a baby’s sleep matter for how they get on at school later on?

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In Episode 9 of the DIAL Podcast, Nirosha Varghese from Bocconi University discusses her research looking at the links between early childhood sleep and how children get on at school later on.

Further information:

Early childhood sleep and later cognitive human capital is Marie Curie funded research analysing the relationship between early sleep problems and later cognitive outcomes in a life course perspective. It was presented at the DIAL Mid-Term Conference in June 2019.

The many faces of inequality – highlights from the dial mid-term conference

This summary captures a three-day programme of presentations and panel discussions at the mid-term conference organised by Dynamics of Inequality Across the Life-course (DIAL), which took place from 6–8 June 2019 in Turku, Finland. The conference brought together over 90 researchers from many of the DIAL research projects as well as representatives from various international and European institutions such as OECD, COFACE, Eurofound and ETUC. Numerous topics were covered at the conference, including intergenerational inequalities and inequalities related to education, labour market, health, partnership and family-life. The conference was preceded by a pre-conference on “Introduction to the German Socio-economic Panel Study (SOEP)” with Daniel Graeber on Wednesday.

The first conference guests strolled down the sunny streets of Turku and arrived at the beautiful campus area. The conference began with welcoming words from the rector in a lecture hall Mauno Koivisto, named after a sociologist and the ninth President of Finland. Jo Blanden from the University of Surrey delivered the first keynote speech with a topic on new dimensions of intergenerational economic mobility. Blanden described how educational mobility has decreased and educational inequality increased in the United Kingdom. In her talk, Blanden emphasized two main issues: first, she introduced wealth, especially homeownership, as a new dimension for economic inequality. Second, Blanden called for switching the attention back from relative mobility to absolute mobility, which lately has weakened in the UK. The keynote speech was followed by project introductions where 12 out of 13 projects gave a short introduction on their progressions.

First parallel sessions focused on inequality over the life-course and educational and health inequality. Anette Fasang from the EQUALLIVES project presented a paper on life-course typologies across countries. The study revealed the complexity when it comes to country differences: the country context affects the ordering of the events and determines which structures are more advantageous. Ainé Ní Leime from the DAISIE project demonstrated how life-course affects the retirement age differed between occupations and genders. The study concluded that a universal retirement age does not sufficiently take into account the diverse life-courses that vary between these subpopulations, emphasizing a need to recalibrate the retirement age based on new premises. Eyal Bar-Haim from the IMCHILD project investigated income inequality between cohorts across 14 countries. A scarring effect – where difficulties to enter the labour market have life-long effects – was found among most countries for cohorts born after the 1950s.

The second parallel session covered topics such as conceptualizing of mobility, labour market inequality, immigration and ethnic minorities and partnership trajectories. Anders Björklund from the PII project presented a study where they looked at different types of approaches to intergenerational mobility that have been used in studies. While these approaches give different answers to how important family background is in terms of inequality in economic outcomes, all of them could be considered useful and informative. Adrian Adermon from the IMCHILD project presented a study where they bridged two literature traditions, intergenerational mobility and equality of opportunity. He demonstrated with Swedish data how geographical differences in the opportunities can create differences in the intergenerational mobility.

The conference continued on a sunny Friday morning with parallel sessions on topics related to early adulthood processes, secondary level education, parenting and economic insecurity. Wei Huang from the SEED project presented results on the mechanisms underlying the association between social inequality and toddler’s social competence. The results showed that especially high maternal education predicted a toddler’s social competence and the effect was partially mediated by maternal supportive parenting behaviour. High parental education also promoted children’s prosociality and prevented them from peer problems. Second parallel sessions continued with topics on educational inequalities, life-course aspects on mental wellbeing and family life-courses and economic inequalities. Laura Heiskala from LIFETRACK project presented preliminary results on the family background effects on children’s failures in educational transitions within prestige study fields in Finland.

Last sessions on Friday covered social origin influences on education and parental stress effects on intergenerational processes, human capital formation and intersectional inequalities. Friday was finished with a keynote speech on the effects of early-life exposures on health, cognitive, and educational outcomes over the life course by Professor Florencia Torche. Torche presented some fascinating results from her research on the effect of prenatal stress on children’s outcomes. By using a panel survey together with a natural experimental setting, she showed how the early-pregnancy exposure to stressors could have long-term effects on children’s outcomes, and how the children’s ability to ‘catch up’ depends on their socioeconomic advantage.

The keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion on supporting families to break the cycle of disadvantage. The panellists consisted of Liz Gosme (COFACE), Tracey Burns (OECD), James Law (Newcastle University), Marika Jalovaara (University of Turku) and the session was chaired by Kirsi Sutton (the Trade Union of Education in Finland). The panellists pointed out that to break the cycle of a disadvantage there is a need to intervene in national and local levels to provide meaningful support to families promptly. However, the challenge is to identify, reach and engage the families in need and to provide evidence-based support.

After the second conference day, it was time to head out and enjoy the long daylight and the rare heat we were blessed with. A nice stroll down the river led the conference guests to Koulu, previously functioned as a school for cooks, which served as a place for the conference dinner.

The last day kicked off with parallel sessions on inequalities on the labour market, health behaviours and partnership. Alice Kügler from the PII project presented results on the effect of displacement in manufacturing. The results of how low-skilled workers in manufacturing suffer large wage losses compared to high-skilled workers. Pawel Bukowski from the PII project presented a study on inequality trends in Poland from 1892 to 2015. The results shed light on the interesting development from communism to capitalism, and how Poland changed from one of Europe’s most equal societies to one of the most unequal one within a very short period.

Professor Karl Ulrich Mayer delivered the last keynote speech on “the contribution of life course research to the study of inequality –more questions than answers?”. Mayer presented a vast number of life-course studies conducted on socioeconomic inequalities in education, labour market, health and partnership. Epigenetics was also mentioned as a new and promising comer for the life-course studies. Last but not least, the keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion on tackling inequalities in the labour market, with Franz Eiffe (Eurofound), Marina Monaco (ETUC), Alexandra Tzvetkova (European Commission), Susan Harkness (University of Bristol) and the discussion was chaired by Susan Kuivalainen (Finnish Centre for Pensions). The panellists presented several policy implications for diminishing inequality in the labour market such as minimum wage with supportive tax and benefit system, more support for women’s labour market participation and for workers’ wellbeing at work.


Intergenerational mobility, intergenerational effects, sibling correlations, and equality of opportunity: a comparison of four approaches

This paper presents and discusses four different approaches to the study of how individuals’ income and education during adulthood are related to their family background. The most well-known approach, intergenerational mobility, describes how parents’ and offspring’s income or education are related to each other. The intergenerational-effect literature addresses the question how an intervention that changes parental income or education causally affects their children’s outcome. The sibling-correlation approach estimates the share of total inequality that is attributed to factors shared by siblings. This share is generally substantially higher than what is revealed by intergenerational mobility estimates. Finally, the equality-of-opportunity approach is looking for a set of factors, in the family background and otherwise, that are important for children’s outcomes and that children cannot be held accountable for. We argue that all four approaches are most informative and that recent research has provided insightful results. However, by comparing results from the different approaches, it is possible to paint a more nuanced picture of the role of family background. Thus, we recommend that scholars working in the four subfields pay more attention to each other’s research.

Áine Ní Léime: The road to retirement – is it an equal one for people in sedentary and physically demanding jobs?

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In Episode 8 of the DIAL Podcast, Dr Áine Ní Léime from the National University of Ireland talks about her research looking at the work trajectories of people in sedentary and physically demanding jobs and what that means for their health as they approach retirement in a policy context where they are expected to work longer.

Áine is a member of the DIAL programme of research DAISIE project which is using similar methods and approaches to those discussed in this podcast to look at the gendered impacts of policies aimed at extending working life (EWL) in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and  the UK.

Dynamics of Inequality Across the Life-course (DIAL) is a multi-disciplinary research programme consisting of thirteen European projects. The projects examine the sources, structures and consequences of inequalities in contemporary societies. The programme is funded by NORFACE for the period 2017–2021.

EU flag shown in acknowledgment of EU funding

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 724363

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