The International Mommy Tax

Across developed nations, women with children earn significantly less than men compared with childless women—on average a 14-percent difference.


When I was United States Ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, I asked for the highlights of their cross-country data on women's economic conditions. Inspired by that provocative data, the other members of the OECD and its Secretary General decided to launch a new gender initiative. Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing data from the gender initiative and other related OECD reports.

Forty years after Marlo Thomas and friends produced the album "Free to Be You and Me," women still pay a higher price for having children than men do. In fact, as this chart shows, the notorious wage gap for women is largely a Mommy Tax in most developed countries.

Overall, American women still earn only 77 percent of what men earn for every hour worked. Across the developed world, wage gaps have remained stuck at an average of 16 percent since 2005. Gender discrimination laws and increased education levels for women helped, and the gap has closed for younger women. However, once women have children, the gap grows. Of women in child-bearing years who work full-time, those with children earn significantly less than men compared with childless women—on average a 14-percent difference across developed countries.

Gender pay gap by presence of children, ages 25 to 44 years old, 2007-2008

But this doesn't mean an absence of discrimination as some argue—that women "choose" to spend time with kids over pay. Parents have far too few options to work flexibly or leave kids in safe after-school or childcare to call it a choice—and mothers are the ones who sacrifice by interrupting their careers or going part-time. OECD data show that if part-time work is taken into account, the gender pay gap for hourly wages is 11 percent higher across the OECD. Countries with more childcare facilities have a lower gender wage gap.

Gender pay gap and childcare, 2008

In the US, it's clear that as long as higher-paying jobs demand 24-7 availability, we lack affordable, quality childcare, and we remain the only developed nation without paid maternity leave, many families will decide that one parent needs to take a less demanding job, go part-time, become a contingent worker, or refuse a promotion—often at a substantial permanent sacrifice to earnings and security.