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TUC: Women who become mothers before 33 suffer a 15% pay penalty

Women who become mothers before the age of 33 earn 15% less than similar women who haven’t had children, according to new analysis published by the TUC on International Women’s Day today (Tuesday).

The pay penalty for younger mums comes about as they are more likely to have had a significant period out of work or working part-time, before returning to full-time work when their children are older.

Younger mums are also more likely to experience poor treatment in the workplace – and that affects their earnings. A fifth of mums under the age of 25 said they were dismissed or were treated so badly that they were forced out of their jobs because of pregnancy or maternity leave, compared to 1 in 10 mothers overall.  

In contrast, older mums who work full-time get a wage bonus of 12% compared to full-time women without children. Many older mums are higher earners and more senior in their workplaces, so benefit from better entitlements and are more able to afford full-time childcare so they can work full-time. 

All mothers should be supported and treated fairly in the workplace, regardless of the age at which they have their children, their seniority in the workplace or whether they work full or part-time, says the TUC.

To address the motherhood pay penalty, the TUC wants:

  • support for more equal parenting roles to stop women being held back at work – shared parental leave is a start but take up is likely to be low and better paid, fathers-only (rather than shared) leave is needed
  • more free childcare from the end of maternity leave to help younger mothers with less seniority and lower pay to stay in work after having children 
  • more better-paid jobs to be available at reduced hours or as flexible working, to prevent women getting stuck in low-paid, part-time work after having children
  • more to be done to ensure all women are supported in the workplace and do not experience discrimination linked to pregnancy and childbirth – new mothers should not have to pay tribunal fees of £1,200 and they should be given longer than 3 months to pursue a tribunal claim.  

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This research shows that millions of mothers still suffer the motherhood pay penalty.

“We need to do far more to support all working mums, starting by increasing the number of quality part-time jobs and making childcare much more affordable. 

“Women in full-time, well-paid jobs shouldn’t be the only ones able to both become parents and see their careers progress. All women worried about their pay and conditions should join a union to get their voices heard and their interests represented.”


  • The analysis was carried out for the TUC by the IPPR. They compared the wages of women and men in the 1970 Birth Cohort Study which covers 17,000 people. They compared the weekly earnings of those in full-time work at age 42 who had become parents with those who had not had children. They compared the wages of mothers and childless women who had similar levels of education and in similar jobs. The analysis will form part of a larger report published next month.
  • Many mothers are not covered by this analysis because it only looks at full-time workers. Most mums, including older mums, remain the primary care-givers and have little option but to work part-time. They therefore face an even larger pay penalty than the full-time working mums because most part-time work opportunities are low paid. Women are far more likely to reduce their working hours after having children than men – the report found that over half of mothers who were in work at age 42 were in part-time work compared to just 3% of fathers and 13% of women without children. And working part-time attracts a significant pay penalty - women working part-time earn 32% less per hour than women working full-time.
  • Evidence of the better treatment and higher return rates after maternity leave for older mothers is included in this survey: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/publication-of-research-report-no-777-maternity-and-paternity-rights-and-women-returners-survey-2009-10
  • A fifth of younger mums said they were dismissed or were treated so badly that they were forced out of their jobs because of pregnancy or maternity leave. The EHRC study on pregnancy discrimination is available at www.equalityhumanrights.com/publication/pregnancy-and-maternity-related-discrimination-and-disadvantage-first-findings-surveys-employers-and-0
  • The ONS publish statistics on the gender pay gap which are available at: www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/bulletins/annualsurveyofhoursandearnings/2015provisionalresults. The gender pay gap between all full-time women and men in this cohort study is 34%. This gap is largely due to the impact of parenthood on earnings. However, there is still a significant gender pay gap among those who haven’t had children – full-time women without children born in 1970 earned 12% less than men without children.

The TUC’s women’s conference is in London next week (Wednesday 9 to Thursday 10 March). It will include a panel discussion on the motherhood pay penalty with speakers from the IPPR, the Fawcett Society and Maternity Action. For more details about the conference please contact Scarlet Harris on sharris@tuc.org.uk or on 020 7467 1303.

All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

Follow the TUC on Twitter: @The_TUC and follow the TUC press team @tucnews

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