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

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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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