The earning gap between men and women can be explained by the birth of the first child.

Claudia Goldin

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the advocacy for gender equality changed how organizations and the state approached women’s labor force participation. This transformation is reflected in the high rate of women’s educational attainment and promotion of equal hiring. Today, we can agree that there is an increase in women’s labor force participation. Despite this success, women experience what Arlie Hochschild refers to as the double shift: they are turned in between competing devotions of childcare and employment.

With these devotions, one negatively impacts the other. In essence, the demands of childcare can hamper women’s access to equal opportunities in the workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic was an eye-opener in this regard. For instance, mothers with children under 18 years old had to resign from their workplace as a result of the closure of schools and daycare centers. Similarly, about 11.2 million less educated and immigrant women compared to men lost their jobs in the pandemic. As such, during the pandemic, men continued to outnumber women in the labor force and retained more full-time positions than women.

Therefore, caregiving keeps mothers out of the labor market. Professor Claudia Goldin’s, the 2023 Nobel Prize Laureate for Economics, archival excavation and analysis of 200 years of U.S. data reveals that men’s and women’s earning gap can be explained by the birth of the first child. This result explains the motherhood penalties such as the promotion bias, wage penalties, and turnover that women experience due to caregiving (Stone 2007; Blair-Loy 2005; Budig and England 2001).

Currently, the pandemic relief fund, the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021, has run out (ended on September 30, 2023). American mothers are experiencing a childcare cliff. This means that there could be a rise in poverty, turnover in the childcare workforce and among working mothers, and a reduction in affordable care. These ripple effects fundamentally impact women and this means that the earning capacity of both middle and low-income mothers would be affected. And when women are out of the labor market, the U.S. loses $650 billion annually (Srikanth 2021).

These consequences draw attention to the possible solutions that the government, organizations, and individuals can undertake. At the Care at Work Summit I recently attended, organized by the MH Worklife Balance, some of the solutions suggested by managers, business owners, and advocacy group leaders include advocating for universal care policy by business owners, raising awareness about the inequality of care, leading with empathy, encouraging fathers to use parental leave, providing access to flexible work practices, providing onsite childcare center for employees, and providing care subsidies such as ensuring affordable child care by the government.

The promotion and implementation of these solutions emphasize, Blessing Adesiyan’s words, that caring is a shared value. It also advances gender and earning parity.

Meaning of Phrase

According to, “the “child care cliff” is the term being used for the abrupt end to pandemic-era funding that has kept thousands of child care programs afloat nationwide”


Blair-Loy, Mary. 2005. Competing Devotions: Career and Family among Women Executives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Budig, Michelle J., and Paula England. 2001. “The Wage Penalty for Motherhood.” American Sociological Review 66(2):204–25. doi: 10.2307/2657415.

Bureau, US Census. 2023. “Men Continued to Outnumber and Outearn Women Among Full-Time, Year-Round Workers in 2021.” Census.Gov. Retrieved November 5, 2023 (

Srikanth, Anagha. 2021. “Women Leaving the Workforce Is Costing the US Economy $650B: Report.” The Hill. Retrieved April 27, 2023 (

Stone, Pamela. 2007. Opting Out?: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences,