Parenthood widens the gender pay gap for mothers in Australia

The male-breadwinner model and unequal sharing of household and childcaring responsibilities are impacting post-parenthood earnings in Australia.
By: | April 18, 2023

Becoming a mother can have long-lasting negative effects on a woman’s employment savings. Even a decade after the birth of a child, then gender gap in earnings remains, with parenthood affecting men and women differently.

A study conducted by the University of Queensland’s Life Course Centre, titled Taking the long view: Long-term couple earnings arrangements across the transition to parenthood, analysed data from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) to investigate the impact of parenthood on earnings across a period spanning a decade prior to and a decade after the birth of a child.

The study found that the share of households with male breadwinners rises sharply post-parenthood and has still not returned to pre-parenthood levels 10 years on. Additionally, there is a significant decrease in the number of equal-earner households, but there is less fluctuation in the number of female-breadwinner households from pre- to post-parenthood.

Ruth Steinbring, the study’s lead author, said, “Our study confirms that parenthood entrenches the male-breadwinner model, but it also shows that there are some couples who make it work with a female breadwinner and we can learn from those households.”

“Current policy mainly focuses on supporting women after the birth of a child, but our research suggests that improving women’s earnings prior to giving birth can also help improve equality.”

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Professor Janeen Baxter, co-author of the study and Director at the Life Course Centre, added that the findings suggest structural, economic, and cultural pressures to conform to a male-breadwinner model, and unequal sharing of household and childcaring responsibilities continue to be strong influences on post-parenthood earnings.

“This study highlights the need for policymakers to also consider the years prior to parenthood as a key period where targeted supports can foster greater long-term gender equality,” Baxter added.