The high cost of motherhood worldwide

Dec. 18, 2012 at 11:04 AM ET

In most countries, there's a gap between men's and women's earnings, and it grows when women have children.

Motherhood has many rewards, but as many women already know, they aren’t usually the financial kind.

A new and comprehensive look at how much money 25- to 44-year-olds earn finds that women of that age earn less than men worldwide, and the gap between men’s and women’s pay grows considerably wider when just comparing moms and dads.

The Organization for Cooperation and Development looked at the wage gap among men and women in its 34 member countries. On average across the countries, they found that median earnings for women who worked full-time were 16 percent less than men working full-time.

That’s actually 4 percentage point improvement over 2000, the researchers said. Most of the improvement came between 2000 and 2005.

The report found that the gap grew much wider for people in their mid-20s through mid-40s who also were raising children ages 15 and under. Median wages for moms in that situation were 22 percent less than dads in that situation.

For people who weren’t raising children, there also was a wage gap, but it was much smaller. Women of that age without kids made 7 percent less than dads without kids.

In a handful of countries, including Ireland and Australia, the women without kids were actually earning slightly more, on average, than the men without kids.

The comparisons were among full-time workers, but the report noted that women – and especially mothers - are much more likely to work part-time. Many women choose to work part-time so they can have more time for family, but the report noted that it’s tougher to find secure, career-track employment at a part-time job.

In a statement accompanying the report’s release, OECD officials argued that things like high child care costs are keeping some women from working as many hours as they might like, or from pursuing certain careers. They said that, in turn, could end up stifling some economic growth.

“Closing the gender gap must be a central part of any strategy to create more sustainable economies and inclusive societies,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said in a statement.

Worldwide, many women have risen to positions of great power in recent years.

In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the world’s most powerful politicians. And in the United States women including Yahoo! Chief Executive Melissa Mayer have come to command a lot of sway among business leaders.

Still, most top positions are still held by men, and the OECD report noted that the wage gap was wider, on average, at the top of the pay scale.

In the United States, the gap between men’s and women’s earnings has remained little changed even as wages have fallen for everyone because of the recession and weak recovery.  The median earnings for women who worked full-time and year-round were 77 cents for every dollar a man earned in 2011, according to the latest Census data.


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