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Young Mothers Lose Two Years’ Worth of Salary

Having kids after 30, on the other hand, has little effect on lifetime income.

By Nathan Collins


(Photo: Kevin Baird/Flickr)

Women earn less than 80 percent of what men take home, and the pay gap persists even after taking account of the type of work men and women perform. Now, researchers have found that young mothers face yet another pay gap: Having children before the age of 25 costs two years of income in the long run.

“Women have a large and unambiguous short-run reduction in labor income at their AFB [age of first birth],” researchers Mallory Leung, Fane Groes, and Raul Santaeulalia-Llopis write in PLoS One. In the short term, annual income losses can reach upwards of 60 percent for women under 31; in the long term, some groups of women lose as much as two-and-one-half years’ income.

“Our findings highlight the importance of considering jointly fertility and career decisions when analyzing women labor market outcomes,” they write.

Having children before the age of 25 costs two years of income in the long run.

The study is based on the Danish National Patient Registry, which includes income and health information on the country’s entire population from the years 1995 to 2009. As a first pass through the data, the researchers compared income in the year after giving birth to the two years prior. College-educated mothers who first gave birth between the ages of 28 and 31 lost, on average, 63 percent of their income; for non-college women, the number was about 53 percent. Those losses decline the longer people wait to have kids, but they don’t exactly go away: College-educated women who first give birth between 37 and 40 miss out on about 37 percent of their income in the first year of motherhood.

There are similar patterns in lifetime income. Leung, Groes, and Santaeulalia-Llopis estimate that college-educated women who give birth before age 25 lose two years of their average annual income compared to women without children. Women without a college education who have kids before 25 lose even more—the equivalent of two-and-a-half years’ income.

Interestingly, women who have their first child after 31 actually make slightly more money over their careers, though the effect is much less dramatic. Those with a college education who have kids between age 31 and 34, for example, make about one-fifth of a year’s income more over their lives.

Why is this happening? There are a number of possibilities, including reduced hours after pregnancy, employer discrimination against women with children, and foregone education, training, and experience.