Co-author: Inkyung Yoo.
With the gender gap in educational attainment narrowing, “child penalty” – the effect of parenthood on labor market outcomes – is considered the largest remaining obstacle in eliminating the gender pay gap in developed countries. Recent studies show that women’s earnings drop significantly following first childbirth whereas men’s earnings remain largely unaffected. Various policies are being discussed and studied with the goal of reducing the child penalty.
However, from an individual woman's perspective, there is a sure way to avoid the child penalty – to not have any children. Among OECD countries, the fertility rate is indeed lower in places with societal characteristics associated with heavier child penalties, such as less generous family policies, more traditional gender norms, and inflexible labor markets. But cross-country correlations do not provide insight into how the child penalty might evolve as childlessness increases. Would the child penalty also decline in low-fertility regions, leading to convergence across both gender and countries? Or could a large child penalty affect the composition of mothers so as to further increase the child penalty?