If different occupations don’t explain the pay gap, might it be caused by women’s decisions to work less outside the home in order to care for their children? Researchers have found that even when differences in work experience, education, age, and occupation are held constant, women continue to earn less. In fact, research by Columbia University social work professor Jane Waldfogel reveals that mothers receive a 4 percent wage penalty for the first child and a 12 percent penalty for each additional child. In contrast, University of Washington economists Shelly Lundberg and Elaina Rose find that men’s wages increase 9 percent with the birth of their first child. One possible explanations sociologists offer is that, upon parenthood, men are perceived as more committed to their work and women less.
My conservative friends shrug off the pay gap as being a result of the different choices men and women tend to make: Women stay home with kids for at least a little while, the notion goes, so they tend to not keep pace with their male peers. The evidence seems to indicate that women who make the exact same choices as their male peers still lose out. Thank goodness for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, one of the few unambiguously good things the Obama Administration has accomplished.