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Mon, 12/17/2018 - 12:32

‘Motherhood penalty’ traps working mothers in a double bind


MOTHERHOOD IS A DRAG AT WORK. It catches working women in a double bind. First, like all women, they have to accept lower pay than men. But become a mother and it gets even worse.

MOTHERHOOD IS A DRAG AT WORK. It catches working women in a double bind. First, like all women, they have to accept lower pay than men. But it gets worse if you become a mother.

Working costs mothers more. They have to spend a lot of their pay on the childcare they need to allow them to go out to work in the first place.

Thousands upon thousands of working women are trapped like Kim, a single mom from Hagersville, Ontario. Kim is  forced to work nights and rely on her teenage daughter, Samantha, to take care of her 6-year-old brother before and after school. Samantha often has to miss class to take her younger brother to appointments and to take care of him when he’s sick.

48 years of the ‘motherhood penalty’

In 1970, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women told the feds that Canadian women need a federal and universal affordable childcare plan. It’s been 48 years and we’re still waiting. What sociologists call the “motherhood penalty” still applies.

Sociologists came up with the term “motherhood penalty” to describe what most mothers experience on the job, namely:

  • a per-child wage penalty, resulting in a pay gap between non-mothers and mothers that is larger than the gap between men and women
  • mothers may also suffer worse job-site evaluations indicating that they are less committed to their jobs, less dependable, and less authoritative than non-mothers
  • mothers may experience disadvantages in terms of hiring, pay, and daily job experience.

These effects have been documented in over a dozen industrialized nations including Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Australia. The penalty has not shown any signs of declining over time.

Evidence shows Canadian women experience an hourly wage decrease of 5-15% for every child she has. Fathers, on the other hand, get an hourly bonus of about 4% per kid.

Bosses continue to hold onto the outdated—and sexist—idea that women can’t handle work and family. They punish women for continuing to work after having kids, as if working is a free choice and not a necessity.

No choice but to go out to work

In 2018, it’s hard to find a family where mom and dad don’t both have to work to pay the bills. Income inequality is at its highest since 1928, and inflation is always on the rise.

For high-income families, figuring out childcare is easy, hire a nanny, or enroll in a daycare, but for the rest of us, it’s not that simple. Since 1996, childcare costs have risen by 72% in Ontario for example, bringing the average cost of care for a preschool-aged Ontario child to just over $14,000 a year.

The high cost of child care forces women to turn to unregulated alternatives, part-time work or to quit work all together to take care of her child(ren).

Quebec shows the way

In 1997, Quebec introduced Canada’s first affordable childcare plan, at just $5-7 a day.

Between 1996 and 2016, the employment rate for Quebecoise women jumped from 61% to 80%. In the same period of time, Ontario, which has no childcare policy, the increase in the employment rate for women was just 4%.

Public childcare in Quebec kept childcare cost increases to just 28% in 20 years. On the other hand, Ontarians have had to foot the bill for a 72% increase in childcare costs—more than double the increase in Quebec.

Quebec’s plan pays for itself: affordable child daycare means more women go back to work sooner, something which has boosted Quebec’s annual GDP by 1.7%, or $5.2 billion; well worth the $1.6 billion annual investment. If Canada got onboard, it could bring in an extra $150 billion to the nations GDP.  

The benefits of public child care haven’t gone unnoticed, in 2005, Paul Martin’s Liberals planned for a national public childcare system. The plan was abandoned  when the Harper Conservatives took power.

In 2017, Alberta introduced $25 a day public child care and in 2018, Vancouver cited childcare as one of its main concerns in their Vancouver: A City for All Women, 10-year plan.

Canadian women are tired of waiting for action on childcare, we need safe, affordable childcare solutions, not excuses.

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