Men who become fathers benefit from “overvaluation” in their professional lives whereas mothers experience the opposite, often undervalued by employers and underpaid as a result, according to new research.

The study, conducted by Khadija van der Straaten, at the Rotterdam School of Management Erasmus University (RSM) analysed the disparities in pay and progression for men and women working at multinational enterprises (MNEs) and domestic firms around the world both before and after they became parents.

By comparing the wages of more than 36,000 fathers, mothers, and employees without children across 57 countries (using data taken from the WageIndicator surveys), Dr van der Straaten found that men benefitted financially from parenthood, whilst women were penalised.

Furthermore, despite having a global vision the study found MNEs to be amongst the worst offenders, with the fatherhood bonus being higher in MNE subsidiaries than in domestic firms.

Professor van der Straaten commented:

Fathers received a wage premium compared to their childless male peers, across both MNE subsidiaries and in domestic firms. But this premium was US$2 per hour in multinationals, and US$1 per hour, in domestic firms.

Professor van der Straaten

Mothers, on the other hand, suffered regardless of where they worked. The study revealed a wage penalty for mothers across the board, however, the effect was comparable across multinational subsidiaries and local firms.

Dr van der Straaten states the disparity is a result of how gender identity is construed within organisations, as well as that women still hold 9% of senior-level positions within the world’s largest MNEs.

Geography and culture may also come into play, with the study highlighting that the MNE’s home country might also play a role in gendered perspectives for subsidiary firms.

The results challenge commonly held assumptions about the causes and cures of gender pay inequity related to women’s characteristics and life patterns.

Professor van der Straaten explains how previous research suggests the wage gap could be due to reduced productivity at work due to a more demanding home life, whilst fathers are characterised as more committed, reliable and deserving than other male colleagues. However, the absence of a larger penalty for mothers in MNEs compared to local firms proves that motherhood itself is not the only reason for gender inequality in the workplace.

Because of this, existing policies designed to help redress the balance between male and female workers such as offering flexibilities in working hours, whilst useful for many, do not fully address the core issue of gender parity.

Professor van der Straaten concludes:

Policies targeted at women may not lessen the positive biases towards men and masculine corporate cultures. A critical evaluation of gender-related policies, especially in multinationals seems necessary. Businesses could start by setting up their organisation for more gender equality by thinking who has the advantages, not just focusing on who is disadvantaged. We are not only paying women too little; we are also paying men too much.

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.