Motherhood Is Getting More Expensive — & It's Hurting These Women the Most

Sep 4, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. ET
Motherhood is Getting More Expensive
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Motherhood isn't cheap. It's no surprise that raising children costs a pretty penny, but many women underestimate the demands of parenthood and the difficulties that come with being a working parent according to new research. That's why, though most plan to, more moms aren't staying in the workforce.

The research (which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal) suggests that motherhood has been becoming ever more demanding since the 1990s, when the share of women in the United States labor force leveled off after steadily climbing for half a century. While today, the share of women ages 25 to 54 years old work about the same as women of their age group did in 1995, according to The New York Times, more women have college degrees and access to jobs that entice them to delay marriage and family plans. But as women penetrate new positions in droves, men have not bumped up their share of childcare and home and family responsibilities quite the same.

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As a result, parents now spend more of their income on childcare, and they have more pressure to engage in enriching activities with their children when they do indeed find the time away from work. Of course, those activities can also cost them. In fact, in the U.S. alone, mothers spend $2 trillion each year, controlling 80 percent of household spending.

But working women underestimate the cost of parenting — especially college-educated women who'd assumed they'd invest in an education, establish themselves a career and maintain and build that career over time according to the study's authors, Ilyana Kuziemko and Jenny Shen of Princeton, Jessica Pan of the National University of Singapore and Ebonya Washington of Yale.

The researchers, who pulled data from the Labor Department’s National Longitudinal Surveys, the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics and the British Household Panel Survey, found that juggling inflexible work hours and parenting demands is largely responsible for a sharp decline in women's employment after the birth of their first child — even despite the fact that previous research found mothers to actually make better employees.

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In that study, researchers for Microsoft surveyed 500 employers and 2,000 women and found both groups of participants believed that women became better employees after giving birth. Sixty-two percent of employers said moms made better team players. Almost two-thirds of moms said their multitasking skills improved after having a baby and almost half said their time-management skills got better. More than 25 percent of moms said they became more organized too.

For many women, not going back to work was never the plan. In fact, for more than three decades, no more than 2 percent of female high school seniors planned to be "homemakers" by the time they reached 30 years old, even though they did want to be mothers. And although women aren't any less satisfied with their jobs after giving birth, according to the new research, between 15 and 18 percent of women stay home nonetheless.

Highly educated women were less likely to quit working than less educated women, but they were more likely to admit that being a parent was harder than they'd ever anticipated. It's hard for a lot of them because the cost of childcare has increased, women still don't earn equal pay, there's a lack of family-friendly policies like paid family leave and subsidized childcare in the United States, and working mothers work the equivalent of two-and-a-half full-time jobs.

More: Microsoft Says It Will Drop Biz Partners That Don't Offer Paid Family Leave

The average cost of day care in the United States is $11,666 per year (or $972 a month), according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. Prices range from $3,582 to $18,773 a year (or $300 to $1,564 monthly). In fact, the cost of childcare has jumped by 65 percent since the 1980s according to the research. And without childcare, women — who still only earn about 80 cents to the male dollar and aren't afforded as family-friendly paid leave policies as women in some other countries — are working nonstop. A recent Welch's study showed that, when you factor in family duties, working moms pretty much never stop. They work the equivalent of two full-time jobs, clocking in an average of 98 hours per week. The average working mom typically begins her day at 6:23 a.m. and doesn't stop working until 8:31 p.m.

“It is deeply puzzling that at a moment when women are more prepared than ever for long careers in the labor market, norms would change in a manner that encourages them to spend more time at home,” the researchers wrote.

The rising cost of motherhood is outpacing the rising number of women in the workforce and, consequently, stalling the increase of women who stay in the workforce too.


A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards and career advice.

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