Working mothers earned 43% less than fathers in 2023 - is now the time to end the motherhood penalty for good?

 Mum trying to work from home while child plays in room behind her.
Mum trying to work from home while child plays in room behind her.

New analysis has revealed that mothers earned 43 per cent less than fathers in 2023, highlighting the startling difference in the impact of parenthood on working mothers and fathers.

The data is based on median weekly earnings between January and March 2023, where the median (the middle value when the data is sorted into ascending or descending order) weekly pay for mothers was £442, compared to £769 for fathers - a difference of 43 per cent. This drastic difference could be due to more mothers working reduced or part time hours than fathers - a necessity for many due to sky-high childcare costs.

Sadly, the motherhood penalty is not new. There is loads of evidence about the disproportionate impact childcare has on a mother's career, made worse by mums often having to weigh up whether it's actually worth returning to work after having a baby, given the unaffordable high cost of childcare.

The data, commissioned by charity Pregnant Then Screwed, also showed that mothers earned £4.44 less than fathers based on median hourly earnings and that the gap between the median hourly pay of mothers and fathers had grown by almost £1 (93p) since 2020.

Speaking of the findings, Joeli Brearley, CEO and founder of Pregnant then Screwed, says: “The motherhood penalty accounts for almost all of the gender pay gap. It is a serious issue which ensures women have less power and autonomy than men. It also contributes to rising child poverty; after all, children aren’t poor by themselves, they are poor because their mothers are poor.

"Reducing the motherhood penalty would mean the UK is effectively utilizing the skills and talents of its citizens. It would give our economy a much-needed boost whilst enabling families to dig themselves out of poverty. Without access to affordable childcare, properly paid paternity leave and high quality flexible working the motherhood penalty will continue to wreak havoc on women, families and our economy."

Mum working at home with child on her lap, and rest of the family sitting nearby
Mum working at home with child on her lap, and rest of the family sitting nearby

To help end the motherhood penalty, Pregnant Then Screwed is calling for a raft of changes including six weeks of paternity leave to be paid at 90 per cent of salary, all parental leave to be paid at the national living wage, and for childcare costs to cost no more than 10 per cent of household income, with accessible funding available for all parents.

To help get mothers back into work after having a baby, the charity is also calling for all jobs to be advertised as flexible, unless there is a valid business reason not to do so. This flexibility could include working from home, hybrid working, working part time, or doing flexi- or compressed hours, and would be essential in getting mums back into the workplace, while also allowing for them to tend to their children's needs including nursery or school drop off and pick up as well as things like doctors appointments. This flexibility could also allow fathers to share more of the childcare responsibilities.

If you are a working parent, make sure you know the changes around the Flexible Working Bill and your rights when it comes to making a request to work more flexibly. We also look at why companies want people to return to the office, when working from home helps to keep mothers in employment, and the research that shows 85 per cent of parents blame high childcare costs for them not having another baby.