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Working Moms: Yes, You're Paid Less

Last Updated Sep 28, 2010 12:36 PM EDT

Working moms got some bad news today. Despite the gains mothers have made over the past few decades in the workplace, they continue to earn less than men and even their childless female peers.

According to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, women in general lag behind men in the workforce. As of 2007, females make up just 40% of managers and earn 81 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Women did, however, manage to shrink the pay gap. Back in 2000, females made up 39% of managers and earned just 79 cents for every dollar a man took home in his paycheck.

The somewhat surprising news is that working moms saw no pay improvement. Women with children under the age of 18 made no progress and continue to make just 79 cents for every dollar men earn.

"I call this the mom bomb," says Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and chair of the Joint Economic Committee, who commissioned the report. "When men become fathers their pay goes up and when women become moms their pay goes down."

Maloney also worries that if women at the top of the economic ladder continue to suffer from a persistent pay gap, then the picture is likely even grimmer as we move down the economic ladder.

The one question the report doesn't answer is why working mothers earn less than women without children. Is it because there's discrimination in the workforce? Or, is it because many mothers can't put in long hours or as much face time at the office since they have kids that need to be fed and put to bed each night?

There's no doubt that women can get the job done, says Maloney. So some of the pay gap is because of discrimination, she believes. And some of it is cultural, she says.

While those two facts are difficult to change, one thing that working moms can do to improve their take home salary is to hone their negotiating skills, she adds.

I'm not so sure sharpening one's negotiating skills alone will close the gender and motherhood pay gap. But I do think creating awareness is a start. And I also believe it's important to break the bad news to young women that becoming a mother will likely change their career trajectory.

And while men may not think this is a problem they need to worry about, it is. That's because a married woman's financial contribution, at least at the managerial level, makes up 55% of a families' total wages, according to the report. So if mom earns less than her peers, then the household as a whole has less to live on than it should.

Are you surprised mothers earn less than their childless peers?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook of for New Parents.

Baby Feet 3 image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.

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