American Sociological Association

First-Birth Timing and the Motherhood Wage Gap in 140 Occupations

Is delayed fertility associated with a reduced motherhood wage gap in all occupations? Using multilevel models and data from the 2011–2015 American Community Survey, O*NET, and the Current Population Survey, I examine whether delayed fertility is associated with a reduced motherhood wage gap in 140 occupations. Delayed childbearing is one strategy women use to mitigate the motherhood wage penalty. Findings indicate that mothers in high-earning professional occupations experienced the largest wage penalties with early motherhood but also the largest premiums with delayed childbearing. Although delaying a first birth mitigated the motherhood wage penalty in high-wage occupations requiring extensive career preparation, the majority of women who worked in lower wage occupations with more limited human capital requirements experienced no economic benefit from older motherhood. These results challenge the broader narrative that most women can improve their long-term earnings and partly overcome the structural motherhood wage gap by delaying fertility.

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Liana Christin Landivar