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  • Katica Roy

These Are the Generational Effects of the Maternal Wall

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Welcome to my weekly Q&A roundup. (Scroll down to find the Q&A.)

If this is your first time here, welcome. I spend a fair amount of time speaking at events and conferences. At the end of my presentations, I leave space for audience members to ask questions—tough questions, brave questions, you name it.

The level of candor and curiosity always inspires me, and I want to share that sentiment with you. So each week, I pick one question that I believe others would find most instructive and publish my response to it here.

The purpose of this weekly tradition is transparency and inclusivity.

• Transparency: a behind-the-scenes look at my day-to-day.

• Inclusivity: bringing others along in the journey.

Economic Whiplash from Hitting the Maternal Wall


What effect does the Maternal Wall (the bias most mothers face in the workplace) have on children and the country?


This is a loaded question. Let’s use the recently published “child flourishing index” as a springboard to understand how the Maternal Wall impacts our country.

The United States came in 39th place out of 180 countries on the child flourishing index. The index, published by The Lancet medical journal, measures levels of survival, health, and education among children ages zero to 18.

How is it that the world’s largest economy came in 39th place—not even ranking in the top ten?

According to the accompanying report:

“The evidence is clear: early investments in children’s health, education, and development have benefits that compound throughout the child’s lifetime, for their future children, and society as a whole.”

Two words should immediately come to mind: Maternal Wall.

The child flourishing index—and the fact that the US ranked 39th—demonstrates what I’ve been watching for a while now: the generational effects of gender inequity.

Just like becoming a parent, nothing prepares you for having to deal with motherhood bias at work. Take a look at some of the ways working mothers experience such bias.

1. A survey of working America found that:

  • 69% believe mothers in the workplace are more likely to be passed up for a new job than other employees.

  • 60% believe career opportunities are given to less qualified employees instead of working moms who may have more skills.

  • 42% of women without children worry that having a child would negatively impact their career trajectory.

2. A study published in the American Journal of Sociology sent same-gender, equally-qualified application material to employers. Some applications referenced parental status (such as involvement in a parent-child association), while others did not. The results?

  • Female applicants who appeared not to be mothers were twice as likely to get an interview compared to female applicants who appeared to be mothers.

  • Participants recommended 84% of female applicants without children for the job but only 47% of female applicants with children.

  • Participants also suggested mothers receive a starting salary that is $11,000 less than non-mothers’ starting salary.

3. Pew Research shows how popular narratives continue to support the notion that women belong in the home while men belong in the workforce.

  • In the US, two-thirds of adults believe that children with two parents fare better when one parent stays home.

  • Of those US adults, 45% say the better option is for mothers to stay home; only 2% say the better option is for the fathers to stay home.

These biases accumulate and transform into lost economic potential. Women face a 4% drop in wages for every child they have, whereas men receive a 6% wage increase for having children. Further, the aggregate wage gap between working mothers and fathers in the US is $18,000 per year. It’s even wider for mothers of color.

For Latina mothers, for example, the aggregate wage gap nearly doubles to an annual loss of $35,000. Over her lifetime, the average working Latina mother will miss out on $1.4 million compared to the average working, white, non-Hispanic father.

Mothers don’t suffer these biases in a vacuum. Their children suffer them, too, since children largely depend on parents’ incomes for access to quality healthcare and education.

As mothers increase their representation in the workforce, the effects of hitting the Maternal Wall grow in magnitude.

In today’s economy:

  • 70% of US mothers with minor children are in the labor force. In 1975, less than 50% of mothers with minor children were in the labor force.

  • Mothers are the breadwinners in 40% of US households with minor children.

  • In aggregate, 24% of mothers are raising their children on their own; among black mothers, 56% are solo mothers and among Hispanic mothers, 26% are solo mothers.

Which brings me to another nugget of insight from the child flourishing index:

“Even in rich countries, many children go hungry or live in conditions of absolute poverty, especially those belonging to marginalized social groups—including indigenous populations and ethnic minorities.”

This makes sense: 81% of black mothers and 53% of Latina mothers with children under the age of 18 are the breadwinners of their families. And while, in aggregate, more than 30% of female-headed families live in poverty, 38.8% of households headed by Black and Latina women live in poverty. The poverty rate for male-headed households is 17.3%.

A society that does not value women (and by connection, their dependents) equitably, will not flourish:

“…the learning and social skills we acquire at a young age provide the basis for later development and support a strong national polity and economy.”

Gender inequity is holding back our mothers, our children, and the subsequent success of our country. What are we going to do about it?


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