We're afraid that it's true, maternity leave does contribute to the gender pay gap


This might not be quite what people want to hear but it is in fact true:

Women's careers can nosedive if they take more than a year off after having a baby, experts warned yesterday. New mothers may struggle to get back into the workforce, earn less and be passed over for promotion in what has been described as a ‘motherhood penalty’. A panel of women representing the teaching, legal, medical and recruitment professions told MPs that mums who spent more than 12 months on maternity leave were ‘penalised’. Dr Sally Davies, of the Women’s Medical Federation, said: ‘Anything more than 12 months is a detriment – you will not be looked at quite in the same way, sadly, when you return.’ Amanda Fone, chief executive of F1 Recruitment, said she would discourage women and men from taking more than a year off to care for children because it was ‘so difficult’ to return to a role equivalent to the one they left. She claimed legislation had ‘got in the way’ of women being able to have honest discussions with their employers about their plans to have a family.

As we've pointed out many a time before we don't in fact have a "gender" pay gap any more. What we do have though is a motherhood pay gap. And this is made up of two rather different things. The first is simply the general societal background to the process of child rearing. Whether it should be this way or not (not that it is a surprise in a mammal species) it is true that in general women take on more of the child rearing work than men do. Thus things like careers, on average, take a bit more of a back seat for women than they do for men. Perhaps that should change: but a goodly part of the distinction between male and female average wages comes from that deep rooted fact of our society, not from any discrimination by employers.

The other cause is the actual process of having the children themselves and that associated maternity leave. Some part of the pay gap is not because of that lesser desire for the cut and thrust of business, but because of that time taken out of the workforce. Imagine, say, two years paid maternity leave: and the possible average of two children per woman who has any children at all (about right) that would be four years out of the labour force, or well over 10% of the average working life. Climbing that greasy pole is simply going to be more difficult with that disadvantage.

There isn't in fact a solution, at least not a legal or governmental one, to either of these points. whatever ones' views on this, or indeed innumerable other possible problems, it simply is just true that some conundrums just don't have solutions.