Fathers earned 31% more in annual wages than mothers in 2023, study finds

A recent study reveals a significant wage gap between fathers and mothers in the United States. According to a Bankrate analysis of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) data, fathers earned 31% more than mothers in 2023. 

The median annual wage for fathers was $72,280, compared to $55,276 for mothers, highlighting the persistent impact of the "motherhood penalty."

What is the motherhood penalty?

The "motherhood penalty" refers to mothers' economic disadvantages in the workforce. Women are often compelled to take career breaks, opt for lower-paying flexible jobs, or reduce their working hours to accommodate family responsibilities. This leads to significantly lower earnings and limited career growth opportunities for mothers.

Yana Rodgers, Faculty Director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, explained to Bankrate that women continue to do a disproportionate amount of care work. "As long as that's going to continue to happen, and as long as there are perceptions that care work is women's work, we are going to continue to see a motherhood penalty," Rodgers said.

How much do mothers earn compared to fathers?

In 2023, full-time working mothers with children under 18 earned $55,276 annually, while their male counterparts earned $72,280. This discrepancy translates to a monthly loss of approximately $1,400 or $17,000 annually for mothers.

Impact of parenthood on earnings

Notably, there is no equivalent "penalty" for men regarding parenthood. Full-time working fathers with children under 18 earned about 23% more than full-time working men without children, with median wages of $72,280 compared to $58,864, respectively.

Long-term financial consequences

The financial disparity also impacts mental health. According to Bankrate’s 2024 Mental Health and Money Survey, full-time working mothers with children under 18 are more likely than fathers to report that money, parenting, and household obligations negatively affect their mental health. 

The survey found that 53% of mothers cited financial stress, compared to 46% of fathers, and 36% of mothers reported parenting-related stress compared to 25% of fathers.

The motherhood penalty has long-term financial implications. Over a 30-year career, mothers could lose as much as $510,000 in wages, assuming earnings remain constant. This significant loss makes it more challenging for mothers to achieve financial goals, such as saving for retirement, paying down debt, and investing.

Experts suggest addressing the wage gap requires systemic changes in workplace policies and societal attitudes towards caregiving roles. Increasing access to affordable childcare, offering flexible work arrangements, and promoting equal sharing of household responsibilities between parents are crucial steps in reducing the motherhood penalty.