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Women face double penalty of gender, motherhood in work

By YANG JUHUA | 2019-08-22 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
Female workers participate in a tug of war to celebrate the International Women’s Day at Ganyu District in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province. Photo: XINHUA


Nowadays, gender division in the workplace is a theoretical and practical problem that is attracting much attention. This article introduces a new analytical framework, the “double penalty of gender and motherhood,” to discuss the different experiences of men and women in labor force participation. Upon analyzing the data from the Third Survey on Chinese Women’s Social Status in 2010 and with the aid of the Heckman Selection Model, the self-selectivity of men and women aged 19–39 in labor force participation has been revealed.


Our study found that labor force participation is subject to multiple measures of human capital, but in the control of these factors, in addition to the individual circumstances where childless women earn higher income, single, childbearing and childrearing women face much tougher requirements in terms of employment and compensations than their male counterparts. 
Double penalty
Women, especially mothers, are faced with less job opportunities, higher rates of workplace interruption and lower pay. In general, marriage and childbirth take a toll on women’s promotion and income, which are risk factors for career development. For men, marriage has a significant protective effect, as married men with or without children were more likely to be employed and paid higher than single men. 
At the same time, women with children, especially those with multiple children, tend to be more vulnerable in getting promotions and raises than women without children in spite of a few exceptions. The differences between genders, within genders, and between the role of mother and father better prove the existence of a gender penalty, motherhood penalty and double penalty. The interaction between gender and marriage and childbirth makes mothers face multiple dilemmas in the workplace, which verifies the theoretical framework of this article.
Mechanism in three stages
In different stages of labor force participation, the double penalty works through three different mechanisms. Namely, job opportunity is mainly influenced by gender and marriage, workplace interruption is influenced by marriage and childbearing, and income is influenced by gender and childbearing. 
Our study shows that the relationship between the double penalty and labor force participation is complex and diverse, rather than a clear-cut simple interaction. In different stages, gender role expectations are not the same, so the effect of the double penalty is slightly different, though it shares great similarities across female work force participation.
A high employment threshold for women has become the norm in the workplace, but their high education fails to help them translate that into an advantage in the job-hunting and employment process. On the contrary, the increasing number of more educated women entering the workforce actually creates greater competition among women, which leads to a more favorable employment environment for men. 
Once women get married, no matter what choice they make, their employment probability will be reduced. However, having one or several children presents a steady effect on the current employment, with the marginal effect remaining constant, which may suggest that women who have made it in the job market will not easily give up their jobs for childbearing. It can be seen that gender sets the first barrier for women’s employment and marriage sets the second, which also seems to be the higher of the two. 
The work interruption experience could be caused by both marriage and childbearing. Married women are expected to assume new and possibly heavier family responsibilities, leading to an interruption in the workplace. The arrival of the first child sharply reduces the continuity of the woman’s work. 
Families are still often seen as the domain of women, and the job market is often seen as the domain of men. Even if women break the higher threshold of employment, they have to devote more time and energy to taking care of their children and having more children. As a result, some women have to abandon their jobs or at least leave the workplace for a period of time during pregnancy, breastfeeding or parenting.
An individual has many attributes—male or female, employer or employee, mother or father. Some attributes are neutral, while some attributes are endowed with cultural meaning and overlap with related institutional factors, thus making their status and value exceed or lag behind other attributes. 
From the perspective of market evaluation standards and performance expectations, attributes such as male, employee and father have obvious advantages over attributes such as female, parent and mother, making the latter often subject to systematic discrimination and exclusion.
Even in the same workplace, the effect of the double penalty is non-linear, meaning that there is no single pattern of diminishing opportunities for unmarried women, married women without children, mothers with one child, mothers with two children, or mothers with multiple children. 
Similarly, since the male dominance in the workplace has been broken, raising children today also involves sometime and energy of fathers’, which may be why fathers with two children or more have no advantages compared with fathers with one child in any aspect of their career.
However, though fatherhood brings certain workplace disadvantages to fathers with two or more children, the influence of the number of children on fathers is far less than that on mothers. There is no significant difference between fathers with one child, two children or more children in the workplace. 
Difference within same gender
In addition to gender differences, there are also discrepancies in labor force participation within the same gender. Due to different marital and reproductive statuses, men and women also present different employment characteristics in their respective groups. 
Unmarried women, married women without children, and women with multiple children also have different career paths, with the latter being more vulnerable in the workplace, even though single women have the lowest pay. 
In comparison, the differences were much smaller among men than among women. The main differences lay between bachelors and one-child fathers, where the latter reported much higher income than the former.
In a sense, mothers are competing with men as well as with other women in a market where gender division is the norm. Their job prospects and income are deemed to be in an unfavorable state.
Over the past half-century and more, the most important structural changes in global and Chinese society have been the continuous decline of the number of children in families and the diminishing gender gap in education. These changes, coupled with the advocacy of gender equality, put women on the social stage and broke the cultural tradition and social division of male dominance in the workplace.
Theoretically, changes in structural factors, especially education, will not only impact the traditional gender relationship, but also affect the personal experience of both genders and shorten the gap between men and women. While the gender gap in education, health and other areas has narrowed or even disappeared, inequality in the labor market has stagnated or even widened.
This is mainly because the change of the structural elements did not bring the corresponding institutional change, and the continued increase in the number of female college students intensified their internal competition, forming a more favorable work environment for men.
With the deepening of market reform and the implementation of the two-child policy, women will have to face more complex social prejudice and family pressure in the whole process of labor force participation. 
At present, having two children may become the norm for urban women. With high expectations for their children and an excessive parenting culture, some women may find it hard to balance work and family, leading to giving up or lowering career development goals, and others who hope to stay in the workplace will face new challenges.
Therefore, it is urgent to explore ways to promote gender equality, reduce the double penalty of gender and motherhood, and create fair and just employment opportunities for women, especially for mothers. 
Easing the impact of the double penalty will not only improve individual and family well-being, but also increase the female human resources to generate a new demographic dividend and promote gender equality, which is the symbol of the social development and progress of civilization.
Yang Juhua is a professor from the Population Development Studies Center at Renmin University of China. 
edited by YANG XUE