The gender pay gap may be slowly closing, but it remains a lot wider for some women than others.
Moms’ Equal Pay Day falls on Aug. 15. It’s a day marked by women’s organizations to highlight the issues faced by working mothers, including the persistent gender wage gap experienced by mothers in the workplace.
“The wage gap makes it harder for moms to put food on the table and gas in their cars, to afford quality child care and health care, to pay the rent and clothe their kids. It hurts families, communities, and our economy,” Sara Alcid, senior campaign director for workplace justice at MomsRising, a grassroots organization created to help women achieve economic independence, said in a statement Tuesday.
For working moms, the gender wage gap hovers at 62 cents on the dollar compared with fathers, and at 74 cents for mothers working full-time compared with full-time working fathers, MomsRising said. Women overall now earn around 84 cents on the dollar compared with men — an amount that’s up from 65 cents in 1982 but that is almost unchanged over the last two decades.
An analysis by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Institute for Women’s Policy Research, released this month to coincide with Moms’ Equal Pay Day, found that women of color are among the lowest-paid workers in the U.S. It gave some examples to illustrate that point: Native American mothers earn just 37% and Black mothers earn 45.7% of the amount that white, non-Hispanic fathers earn.
“Four out of five Black mothers and two out of three Native American mothers are main breadwinners for their families,” the organization said. “Not only are the majority of Black and Latina women breadwinners, but they also are estimated to spend twice as much time on care work as men.”
‘Lazy-girl jobs’ not possible for all women
Meanwhile, there’s a new trending hashtag, #lazygirljobs. It was coined by a 20-something TikTok influencer, Gabrielle Judge, who said she wanted to empower women to achieve a better work-life balance and encourage them to lean into remote work as more companies call employees back to the office.
More flexible work hours and the ability to work from home would, in theory, also benefit millions of working mothers.
Critics have argued, however, that the lazy-girl jobs hashtag is aimed at middle-class, white-collar workers and doesn’t take into account the lower-paid service industry, which requires workers to show up in person and is dominated by women.
As a result, some have called the “lazy-girl job” movement elitist, something Judge strongly argued against in a recent TikTok video. Instead, she said an employer- and employee-led movement to prioritize work-life balance should be applied to more types of jobs. “Lazy-girl jobs are not a privilege of the middle class,” she said. “Work-life balance is common in higher-earning economic classes. Work means many different things to different tax brackets.”
But Gwendolyn Beetham, the associate director of the gender, sexuality and women’s studies program at the University of Pennsylvania, said the lazy-girl jobs call to action only scratches the surface of the issues that affect women’s ability to achieve full economic freedom.
A “lazy-girl” approach to jobs would be a luxury for working mothers, she told MarketWatch. Women in general take on more child-care and other family responsibilities, which can lead to them being passed up for promotions. Studies also suggest that more women than men take time out from their careers to care for their children, which further contributes to the gender pay gap. That disparity in domestic responsibilities is only exacerbated during the summer months, Beetham said.
“Far from being ‘lazy,’ these summer months are filled with extreme amounts of additional unpaid work — primarily done by women — that starts in the winter months and involves hours of scouring websites trying to find the [child-care] camps that offer the most coverage for the least amount of money,” she said.
Working — but not getting paid
It’s not only a matter of women being paid less than men. Most unpaid care work around the world is also done by women, according to the International Labor Organization. “These women may be out of the paid workforce, but they are definitely working, and a larger societal [and] institutional response to the lack of summer options for care for school-aged children is relatively nonexistent,” Beetham said.
As part of Moms’ Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, MomsRising said cultural stereotypes and workplaces designed around workers who don’t have caretaker responsibilities “deeply impact” women. “Moms are the backbone of our society, dedicating their time and effort to both their families and their careers,” the group said. “Yet, pay discrimination, caregiver discrimination, and lack of paid leave in many of the jobs held by women continue to hold them back, impacting their economic security and future opportunities.”
The organization is urging lawmakers to pass three pieces of legislation. The first is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which, MomsRising said, “would modernize and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to better combat pay discrimination and close the wage gap, including by protecting workers from retaliation for discussing pay, banning the use of prior salary history, and codifying pay data collection.”
MomsRising is also advocating for the Healthy Families Act to “set a national standard for paid sick and safe days to allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick and safe days each year.”
The third piece of legislation the organization is pushing for is the Family Act, which it said “would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time off work for their own serious health condition; the serious health condition of a family member; the birth or adoption of a child; to address the effects of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; and for certain reasons related to military deployment.”
Summer months are tough for mothers
Kids love having the summer off from school, but it’s a tough time for working moms. Employment by prime-age women — defined as those age 25 to 54 — typically falls by an average of 1.1 percentage points between May and July, while prime-age male employment rises slightly. The total number of hours worked by women also falls by 9.8% during those months, more than twice the decline among men.
“This yearly decline is economically meaningful, amounting to almost one-third of the decline in the prime-age female employment rate during the Great Recession. In contrast, employment among prime-age men edges up slightly throughout summer,” according to a working paper distributed this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The authors pointed to summertime school closures as a “unifying explanation.” Across all states, the decline in women’s employment overlaps with the annual school summer break.
“Child-care needs change substantially during the summer months,” said the paper’s authors, Brendan M. Price, a senior economist with the Federal Reserve Board, and Melanie Wasserman, a labor economist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Child care often falls to women
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the disparities between mothers and fathers when it comes to child-care responsibilities. A 2021 study by researchers at the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit aimed at alleviating poverty, concluded that working-age women — which they defined as age 15 to 64 — took on 173 additional hours of unpaid child care in 2020, compared with 59 additional hours for men.
“The inequality in [pandemic-related] employment and firm closures is dwarfed by our estimates of inequality in child care,” the researchers wrote. “That suggests many families, and in particular sisters, aunts, and mothers, were left trying to juggle work and child care simultaneously.”
That pattern appears to repeat itself during the summer months, according to the study distributed by the NBER. “During the school year, working parents of school-age children need to arrange child care before and after school hours as well as during weekend and overnight shifts. When schools close for summer break, parents must additionally account for the six hours per weekday their children previously spent in school,” the study authors said. Working mothers who have younger school-age children — those aged 6 to 12 — are affected the most, it added.
“Women’s summer work interruptions contribute to gender gaps in pay,” the researchers said. Women’s weekly earnings fell by 3.3% over the summer months, about five times the decline among men, the authors found. Women are also more likely to choose lower-paid jobs in industries like education that provide summer flexibility to align with their children’s school schedules, Wasserman and Price wrote.
“Whereas pandemic school closures were unprecedented events, school closures due to annual summer breaks are a longstanding fixture of the U.S. educational system,” the authors added.
“I believe in work-life balance, and not only for people with children,” said Beetham, the University of Pennsylvania professor. “The societal and institutional responses to work-life balance need to be set up so that they can allow everyone to take advantage.”
Zoe Han contributed.