New research finds that working mothers are subject to a “motherhood penalty”, facing earnings that are around 45 per cent lower relative to what they would have earned if remaining childless. 

A new study conducted by University College London reveals that women earn almost half (45 per cent) of what their salary would have been without having children, in the first six years after giving birth.

Within the first year alone, salaries for new mothers drop by over a quarter (28 per cent), equating to a fall of roughly £306 each month.

In addition, this “motherhood penalty” was found to worsen as mothers had additional children over the years.

Despite this, the study also found that whether the working mother returned to her role full-time or part-time had a significant impact on the pay penalty faced.

Dr. Giacomo Vagni, a researcher at the UCL’s Institute of Education stated that mothers “who are able to maintain full-time working hours experience little or no penalty”.

However, Dr. Vagni further continued to explain that this is not a possibility for many mothers who must juggle looking after their newborn child whilst also balancing work-duties, leading to a high proportion of part-time working mothers.

These findings come as a recent tribunal ruling found that women, due to their caring responsibilities, are less likely to be able to accommodate certain working patterns compared to men.

As such, it was ruled that caring responsibilities fall more heavily on working mothers, offering key protection from workplace discrimination in this arena.

Confirming the findings of this research, a separate report also stated that having a child means mothers are more likely to reduce paid work in some form even when she has the higher rate of pay prior to the birth.

As a result of this, women’s employment rates jump sharply down from about 90 per cent to 75 per cent after giving birth, and average weekly hours of work for those still in paid work fall from around 40 to less than 30.

Dr. Vagni continued:

Mothers are much more likely to be the ones putting their career aside with the birth of a child.

Therefore, motherhood takes mothers away from the labour market during the prime years of career development. Mothers with young children miss out on important job opportunities and promotions.

*This research was published in the European Sociological Review under the title ‘Earnings and Income Penalties for Motherhood: Estimates for British Women Using the Individual Synthetic Control Method‘.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.