Working Families: How Marriage & Family Affects Pay

The choices you make about your career aren't the only things that affect pay equity. In order to find out how marital and family status affect the gender pay gap, we grouped respondents into four categories based on their relationship status and whether or not they told us they had children. We also asked survey respondents if they ever prioritized family obligations over work responsibilities to see what effect that had on their career and pay.

Does Marriage and Family Affect Earning Potential?

It's long been theorized that one reason why working women haven't yet achieved pay equity is because outside factors, like family and home life, are perceived as threats to job performance, whether or not they actually do affect productivity. To see what effect marriage and family status has on the gender pay gap, we calculated controlled and uncontrolled gender pay gaps between four groups of men and women: single without children, single with children, married without children, and married with children. The results showed that the pay gap widens for women who are married and/or have children.

In fact, the only demographic for which there is no gender pay gap is for single, childless men and women who say that they never prioritize family over work.

Single men and women without children have the smallest controlled (0.6 percent) and uncontrolled (13.4 percent) pay gap. As soon as marriage and/or children are introduced, the pay gap increases.

The belief that home responsibilities hinder women at work is often referred to as the maternal wall. It is widely known that women continue to do the majority of childcare and housework, and this may be a reason that women report higher stress levels than their male counterparts. However, when we asked respondents if they ever prioritized home obligations over work obligations, men were actually slightly more likely to say yes. In fact, 24 percent of male workers said they prioritize family over home once a week or more, compared to just 21 percent of women. Married fathers were most likely to prioritize home over work on a weekly basis (27 percent) compared to any other demographic.

Women are Penalized

But even though men are more likely to say that they prioritize family over work, and that they do it more often, women see a greater pay penalty when they do. The more often a woman says she puts family first, the greater the pay gap between her and a man who says they do the same thing. Married mothers see the biggest difference in pay compared to married fathers, even though they are less likely to say they occasionally put home obligations ahead of work ones.

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