The role of parenthood on the gender gap among top earners

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This research uses Norwegian registry data to study the effect of parenthood on the careers of high-achieving women. It finds the child earnings penalty is substantially larger for mothers with an MBA or law degree than for mothers with a STEM or medical degree.

In recent decades women have outnumbered men in higher education and the gender pay gap has narrowed, yet substantial gender inequality still exists. This has been shown to be particularly true at the upper end of the earnings distribution.

This research set out to analyse the issue by studying the effects of parenthood on the earnings of men and women with an MBA, law, STEM or medical degree who became parents between 1989 and 2000.

The results show women in professions with nonlinear wage structures, such as those requiring an MBA or a law degree, suffer a child earnings penalty of more than 20 per cent after 10 years. For women in medicine or STEM careers, there is a smaller drop in earnings after childbirth which is largely closed again by the time their first child is 10.