The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News



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Op-ed: Equality in childrearing doesn’t end with Women’s History Month

Kate Mulcahy

The phrase “working mother” was once considered an oxymoron, reflecting a societal paradigm where women’s roles were confined primarily to the domestic sphere. However, when women entered the workforce in waves after World War II, working mothers have become commonplace across all of society. 

Despite this progress, women continue to face the burden of the so-called “motherhood tax,” wherein the choice to become a mother is penalized within the workforce financially and socially. This tax manifests through lower wages, reduced career advancement opportunities and societal biases against working mothers. In confronting the enduring challenges the motherhood tax poses, it is evident that concerted efforts are essential to ensure that the progress of working mothers is not impeded. This progress should be celebrated and supported as a fundamental step toward achieving gender equality in the workforce.

Research shows that in the United States, a woman’s probability of employment declines by an average of 24% in the first year after giving birth, with 17% still absent from the workforce five years after giving birth. This impact on work participation leads to lost earnings, with mothers seeing their income drop by 4% for each child they have, in stark contrast to fathers, who often experience a 6% wage increase. The underlying reasons are multifaceted, stemming from employer biases, lack of affordable childcare and the disproportionate burden of domestic responsibilities on women. 

The consequences of the motherhood tax reverberate through all facets of society. With mothers downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely, the motherhood tax perpetuates a cycle of financial insecurity and gender-based income disparities. It sends a foreboding message to young women aspiring to balance motherhood and professional ambitions, potentially deterring them from pursuing leadership roles or high-powered careers.

Putting women in leadership positions can also play a pivotal role in alleviating the motherhood tax through fostering a supportive work environment that prioritizes gender equality and work-life balance. When women hold leadership roles, they are more likely to advocate and prioritize policies and practices that accommodate the needs of working mothers, such as flexible working hours, parental leave and access to affordable childcare. 

In addition, female leaders serve as role models, challenging traditional gender norms and demonstrating that career success and motherhood are not mutually exclusive. Recently, U.S.-based baby formula company Bobbie made waves in the corporate world when its Chief Brand Officer Kim Chappell made the novel decision to promote a designer the day before her maternity leave began. 

In a LinkedIn post, Chappell wrote, “Sure, we could have waited for her to return this summer for the raise to hit the payroll, but pregnant women should not be punished in their careers for also being mothers.” 

When workplaces create a culture that values mothers, women are empowered to thrive both personally and professionally and are able to spearhead initiatives that promote support during motherhood and maternity leave.

However, corporate initiatives alone are insufficient. Governments must enact legislation that enshrines equal pay, prohibits discrimination against mothers and incentivizes the provision of affordable, high-quality childcare services. The United Kingdom began introducing childcare subsidies last March in an attempt to bridge this gap, providing 30 hours of free childcare a week for eligible working parents. It is imperative for other nations to follow suit by implementing policies that not only support working mothers but also promote a more equitable distribution of caregiving responsibilities between genders. 

This alarming disparity must be addressed from all angles, but most importantly, a cultural shift is needed to challenge the outdated perception of women as primary caregivers. By promoting shared domestic responsibilities and encouraging fathers to take an active role in parenting, we can alleviate the disproportionate burden on working mothers. 

As the societal landscape continues to evolve, it is imperative to recognize and address the multifaceted challenges that working mothers face. By advocating for supportive policies, fostering inclusive work environments and promoting female leadership, both society and corporations can mitigate the “motherhood tax” and pave the way for a future where women are not punished for choosing to have children. 

Only through collective efforts can we ensure that the phrase “working mother” no longer carries the weight of an impossibility, but rather signifies a testament to the resilience and capability of women in all spheres of life.

Anne Zhu is a third-year business and economics major. She can be reached at [email protected].


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