Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

The Cost Of Time Off.

By Allison Hamilton-Rohe

You may have heard the statistic that women earn 70 cents for every dollar a man earns. Is it women’s choices that drive the pay differential? Do women earn less than men earn mostly because men never step off the ladder -- their wives do? It’s not that simple.

Salaries between men and women are fairly equal during our 20s. As we get into the career-building years of our 30s, many women opt out of their careers, and earnings start to diverge.

Our data show that women lose an average of 18% of their earning power when they take an off-ramp. In business sectors, penalties are particularly draconian: in these fields, women's earning power dips an average of 28% when they take time out. The longer you spend out, the more severe the penalty becomes.1

However, the GAO calculated in 2003 that 20% of the pay differential has nothing to do with women’s choices and has everything to do with —you got it — discrimination.2

So – yes – part of the pay differential has to do with women’s choices. But, think about it: why is it women who step out of the workforce in the first place? Even though salaries are close between women and men in our 20s, women still get paid, on average, 6% less.3 So when a family has to make the choice about who stops working to care for a child or elderly parent, the numbers often drive the decision.

So, what’s a girl to do? It’s pretty simple.

Finally, take heart in the fact that companies who are working to develop and highlight programs that attract and retain female talent are going to be industry leaders:

 …the number of women with graduate and professional degrees is projected to grow by 16% over the next decade, which the number of men with these degrees is projected to grow by a mere 1.3%.4 

In other words, as the boomers start to retire, the most qualified young workers will be women. As any starlet can tell you, when you’re the talent, ask for what you want and you’ll get it.


1. Hewlett SA, Luce CB. Off-ramps and on-ramps, keeping talented women on the road to success. Harvard Business Review, March 2005, p. 4.

2. The Paycheck Fairness Act: Helping to close the wage gap for women. Washington, DC: National Women’s Law Center, April 2006, p. 2.

3. Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2002, US Department of Labor, Report 972. Washington, DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2003.

4. Hewlett SA, Luce CB. Off-ramps and on-ramps, keeping talented women on the road to success. Harvard Business Review, March 2005, p.10.

Allison Hamilton-Rohe currently works in medical education in New York City.  She lives in New Jersey with her husband, toddler and dog.

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