23 Aug 2006

The Child Penalty

A Compensating Wage Differential?

Christina Felfe

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European Network of Economic Policy Research Institutes (ENEPRI) Research Report No. 22 / 37 pages

Many studies document that women with children tend to earn lower wages than women without children (a shortfall known as the ‘child penalty’ or ‘family gap’). Despite the existence of several hypotheses about the causes of the child penalty, much about the gap in wages remains unexplained. This study explores the premise that mothers might substitute income for advantageous, non-pecuniary job characteristics. More specifically, the hypothesis to be investigated is that if the labour market rewards working arrangements that involve disamenities, to some extent the child penalty might be a compensating wage differential for the disamenities avoided by mothers.
In order to assess the impact of motherhood on the choice between pecuniary and non-pecuniary job features in Germany, data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP) is used. The longitudinal nature of the data allows a comparison of working women before and after the birth of their first child. Furthermore, the GSOEP provides detailed information on personal attributes, job characteristics and job satisfaction, which enables the application of the following three steps to test the hypothesis. First, an event study is used to analyse the changes in the characteristics of a woman’s job around the birth of her first child. The features of interest are time, workload and flexibility. Second, job characteristics are included by their utility (proxied by job satisfaction) for a mother. Third, following the approach of hedonic wage regressions, these (dis)amenities are included in the wage regression in order to see whether a trade-off exists between pecuniary and non-pecuniary job characteristics. The results suggest that to some degree the child penalty can be interpreted as a compensating wage differential.