There’s a question that still, however unfairly, haunts many working women: whether marriage and children are bad career moves. While the size of the gender pay gap is often disputed, there is one gulf that appears to be pretty indisputable: Gender pay disparities are the most dire for married women.
The gender pay gap also has to do with the well-documented disparity experienced by women with children—often dubbed the “motherhood penalty.” Researchers have estimated a wage penalty of a 4 percent earnings hit per child, while fathers see a 6 percent increase per child (the so-called “fatherhood bonus”). Worst of all, the penalty has not diminished over time. And the term “motherhood penalty” has come to represent more than just the lagging earnings of working mothers: Studies have shown that women with children are often stereotyped and surveys suggest that mothers are less likely to be hired and, if hired, more like to be held to higher standards. (Given all of this, it’s no wonder that political movements to close the gender pay gap have such a heavy focus on working mothers in particular and policies that would benefit them specifically, such as paid leave, flexible hours, and leave for fathers.)
Interestingly, a group of researchers recently identified a field where the motherhood penalty was virtually nonexistent. The researchers, Danielle Lindemann, Carly Rush, and Steven Tepper, looked at earnings inequalities in the arts—“the arts” referring to jobs in the performing arts, design, art history, writing, film, the visual arts, and music. Using a survey of nearly 34,000 Americans with art degrees to study the earnings trajectories of those with artistic careers, the researchers found that the pay gap for the field is in some ways similar to the national average, but, more interestingly, they did not find a wage penalty associated with motherhood.