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Credit: Son Nguyen

Mothers face a five to 10 percent decrease in earning potential per child, Penn postdoctoral fellow Sandra Florian told Penn Today.

Florian, who is part of Penn’s Department of Sociology and Population Studies Center, studies the impact of motherhood on a woman’s status in the labor market and how factors like race and class compound the problems new mothers face. 

In the interview, she also discussed the 'motherhood penalty', explaining that it is "in great part a result of less time spent in the labor market." 

"Having children reduces women’s work hours and work experience," Florian said. "This is really problematic because employers often use work experience to gauge potential productivity."

Florian said while employers view fathers as dependable workers and the primary breadwinners, employers often assume mothers will prioritize her child over work, even if she puts in as much or more effort than her male counterparts.

"In general, when men have children, they increase their attachment to the labor force," Florian told Penn Today.

"Fathers are more likely to be seen as responsible, get considered for promotions, and be offered higher starting wages," she added.

According to her research, mothers suffer the greatest disadvantages the first few years after childbirth, but the effects of the motherhood penalty can build up over time and continue to affect women throughout their entire careers. 

In the interview, Florian proposed two solutions to this problem. First, she emphasized the importance of affordable child care. Child care can cost a staggering $500 a week – more than many working women can afford – meaning their only option is to take time off work and stay home to care for their children.

The second solution Florian proposed is raising awareness of employer bias against mothers.

Florian is also interested in how the 'motherhood penalty' is unequally distributed among different groups of women, particularly immigrant women. She is currently working with Penn Sociology professor Emilio Parrado on the Hispanic Fertility Project.

In 2016, Penn changed its disability policy to let employees switch to a short-term disability leave after using only 10 days of sick leave or vacation time. The policy change, which covered both medical and maternity leaves, allowed Penn employees to utilize maternity leave without worrying about using their days of sick leave and vacation time. However, some Penn graduate students still face disadvantages after giving birth due to Penn's restrictive maternity leave policies.