Having children is costly. It costs money, time, resources and energy. Yet women and men do not share these costs equally. Women tend to bear the greatest burden. After the birth of their first child, women spend more time on unpaid childcare and less time on paid employment than men. This can have large long-term effects on the economic opportunities available to men and women. In other words, women face an ‘penalty’ from having children, while men do not. Some researchers call this the ‘child penalty’.
How can we measure this? One way is to look at the earnings or employment of women and men around the birth of their first child and see what happens to women’s employment relative to men. When we do this, we see that there is a large and persistent child penalty for women. In Denmark, women’s earnings 10 years after the birth of their first child are 20 percent lower than they would have been if they hadn’t had children.
While major progress has been made in reducing the gender gap in most developed countries, the child penalty has remained stubbornly in place. In Denmark, the share of gender inequality in earnings which can be explained by parenthood rose from about 40% in 1980 to more than 80% in 2013.
So the question is: what causes the child penalty? Is it fixed and universal, or does it vary across different countries and societies? What can we do to reduce it? One way of answering these questions is to measure the child penalty across countries and compare them. This is what motivated us to create the Child Penalty Atlas.
The Child Penalty Atlas is a major research project to construct an atlas of child penalties. Our aim is to document the effect of parenthood on gender inequality across as many countries as possible. This will help us to investigate the root causes of gender inequality, answering questions like: How does growth and development effect the child penalty? How about parental leave and childcare policies? What role do culture and norms play?
Making an atlas of child penalties requires two major ingredients: data and methodology. Read more about these here:
Until now, calculating child penalties required ‘panel’ data where we follow the same people over time, which is only available for a handful of highly-developed countries. We make a methodological innovation that enables us to calculate child penalties with much simpler data, without the need to follow people over time. This means that we can calculate our measure for a much larger number of countries.
Constructing an atlas of child penalties requires a lot of one thing: data! We embark on a unique data collection effort to bring together individual-level data from a variety of data sources for over 120 countries.
The home of the Child Penalty Atlas is the Hub for Equal Representation in the Economy at the London School of Economics. The Hub is a team of economics researchers focused on improving representation of women and minorities at work. You can find out more information about the Hub and its activities here.
From Our Research
Kleven, H., Landais, C. & Leite-Mariante, G. (2023). The Child Penalty Atlas. National Bureau of Economic Research (No. w31649)
Kleven, H. (2022.). The Geography of Child Penalties and Gender Norms: Evidence from the United States. National Bureau of Economic Research (No. w30176).
Kleven, H., Landais, C., & Søgaard, J. E. (2019a). Children and gender inequality: Evidence from Denmark. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 11(4), 181-209.
Kleven, H., & Landais, C. (2017). Gender inequality and economic development: fertility, education and norms. Economica, 84(334), 180-209.
Kleven, H., Landais, C., Posch, J., Steinhauer, A., & Zweimüller, J. (2019b, May). Child penalties across countries: Evidence and explanations. In AEA Papers and Proceedings (Vol. 109, pp. 122-26).
Kleven, H., Landais, C., Posch, J., Steinhauer, A., and Zweimüller, J. (2021). Do Family Policies Reduce Gender Inequality? Evidence from 60 Years of Policy Experimentation
Goldin, C. (2021). Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Bertrand, Marianne (2020). Gender in the Twenty-First Century. AEA Papers and Proceedings, 110: 1-24.
Andrew, A., Bandiera, O., Costa Dias, and Landais, C. (2021). Women and men at work. Institute for Fiscal Studies.