The motherhood penalty in Australia

Date: Sep 08, 2014

The motherhood penalty has been identified as a critical barrier to gender pay equity in Australia by the Diversity Council Australia (DCA). 

September 5 2014 marks Equal Pay Day in Australia. Annual equal pay day refers to the number of extra days a women needs to work from the start of the financial year in order to make the same pay as men in Australia.

To mark the occasion the DCA has analysed national and international research on the motherhood penalty. This refers to the inequity in pay that women receive following childbirth and due to raising a family. 

DCA's CEO Lisa Annese believes that serious action needs to be taken to tackle this "disturbing and compelling" problem and the roles of both men and women in the workplace.

Ms Annese points to ABS statistics released on August 14 2014 that show the gender pay gap has increased to 18.2 per cent, to highlight the fact that women are not earning a fair amount in Australia. 

"The current gender pay gap means women are currently earning just under 82 cents for every dollar their male colleagues earn, down from an average of 85 cents, ten years ago. This is despite Australian tribunals handing down the ever first equal pay case in 1975. How can we still be in this position in 2014?" Ms Annese states in a September 3 press release. 

One of the research findings is that women who have children will experience a 17 per cent decrease in lifetime wages. The government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) reports that this is influenced by the type of role women take following a return to the workforce as it tends to be a more mother-friendly option.

According to the DCA the role is usually not reflective of their education level, work experience or abilities and they are paid less. 

WGEA also discuss a 2009 analysis of Household Income and Labour Dynamics Australia (HILDA) data, which showed that women returning to work in Australia were on average subjected to a motherhood penalty of 7 per cent once they returned to work after 12 months parental leave. This penalty increased to 12 per cent in the following year. 

Furthermore, WGEA state that gendered division of caring for children and domestic duties and the gender pay gap are linked.

If you are currently involved in a child custody dispute or a divorce financial settlement then the motherhood penalty may be an important consideration.