(CN) – Leaving work to raise children can be very damaging to the careers of highly skilled women, who miss opportunities for raises and advancement while focusing on motherhood.
The percentage of wages lost also relates to a woman’s ethnicity, according to a study published Thursday in the journal American Sociological Review. The study authors reviewed data from surveys conducted by the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
Tracking 4,658 women from 1976 – when the women initially completed the survey – to interviews in 2010, when the participants were largely past their childbearing years, researchers examined how taking time to raise children hindered the subjects’ careers.
Led by Paula England, a professor of sociology at New York University, the team found that highly skilled, highly paid white women faced the most significant wage losses – losing about 10 percent per child.
“In the case of highly skilled white women with high wages, what is striking is that they have the highest penalties despite the fact that they have the most continuous work experience of any group of women, which, other things being equal, would reduce their penalties,” England writes in the study.
“Their high returns to experience and tenure mean that loss of every year of work caused by motherhood is much more costly for their future wages, even in proportionate terms, than it is for other groups of women.”
White women with lower skills experienced the next highest percentage of lost wages – between 4 and 7 percent. Black women lost less money per child raised, and the differences among skill levels were less pronounced for them as well.
“We might still want to give priority to policies, such as child-care subsidies, that help low-income women,” England writes.
“But, in an era when there are still few women CEOs and we have yet to elect a woman president, it is important to understand how much motherhood affects the careers of women at the top and to consider how this can be changed.”