Wednesday 24th July 2024

The four ways mothers are financially penalised

A mother’s work is never done and she doesn’t even get paid for much of it either.

This weekend it’s Mothering Sunday, a day on which we traditionally celebrate mothers and all the crap they put up with for the sake of the preservation of mankind. While it’s nice to receive a bunch of chrysanthemums once a year, this appreciation doesn’t translate well when it comes to our personal finances.

The clever folk over at Fidelity, the fund manager, have come up with four ways in which mothers are penalised money-wise. The first is the Motherhood Penalty – the point at which the divergence in men’s and women’s salaries really takes off – also known as the childbearing years.

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According to the Social Market Foundation, a think tank, working mothers are earning 20% less than fathers just 10 years after the birth of their last child. Government initiatives have tried to redress this balance with the introduction of shared parental leave, but men so far are too canny to make use of it. Only 1% of those eligible to share leave with their wives or partners did so in 2016/17. It’s pathetic really.

It therefore remains entirely acceptable for pin-striped twerps on the train to Tunbridge Wells to bleat at full volume about how they would “never employ any woman of childbearing age”, as they can do so in the full confidence that men will never be silly enough to put themselves in such a vulnerable position.

I would add to this one: the Career Penalty. Because it’s not just a case of taking time out of work, but of sacrificing your career ambitions on the altar of motherhood altogether.

I can testify to this as my career has been well and truly kiboshed by that of my husband. No-one batted an eyelid when I took voluntary redundancy from my City Desk job at a national newspaper to move to Scotland with my husband and our three-month-old first child 14 years ago.

Nor when he changed careers to join the Foreign Office and I duly resigned from a well-paid deputy editor post at another national newspaper to follow him to the Middle East eight years ago. The idea of him doing this, unremarked by others, in order for me to further my career is completely laughable. I was eight months pregnant with our third child at the time, so that pretty much sealed the deal.

Next comes the Childcare Penalty, which hits us Brits especially hard as we have to brave some of the highest childcare costs in the world. The Family and Childcare Trust says the average cost of 25 hours’ childcare per week for two children jumped by an inflation-incinerating 7% last year to £6,300.

And guess whose earning power takes the hit when a couple decides this is too expensive? According to the Office for National Statistics, while 65% of mothers are in work, so are 93% of fathers – so it is clear who is opting to stay at home to do the grunt work instead.

Part of the problem is that the cost of childcare is still frequently viewed as the responsibility of the mother. How many times have you heard a couple say “well the childcare costs more than she earns, so she is going to give up work”? Why isn’t childcare seen as the financial responsibility of both parents?

Then there is the Good Daughter Penalty. The job of caring for elderly relatives so frequently falls to women, often because they are already stuck at home caring for children. Carers UK estimates that informal carers – those looking after sick and elderly relatives – are currently saving the economy a whopping £130 billion a year.

According to research from the Department for Work and Pensions, these workers are overwhelmingly female (around two-thirds). But they don’t get paid and they certainly don’t get pension benefits.

Which brings us on to the Pension Penalty, whereby women only save a fraction of what men do over the course of their working lives. Fidelity did some calculations of their own for this one, using earnings figures from the ONS. It found that the average 68-year-old man will have amassed a pension pot worth £142,836, while the average 68-year-old woman will have saved just £126,784 – a gap of 11%.

Even where women try to make up for lost pension years later on in their careers, they are restricted from doing so by tax rules which dictate how much we may put into pensions each year. And those who buy annuities to pay pension income will further find that women get worse rates than men because they live longer and so have to stretch these savings even further.

It’s all a bit depressing really.

Lots of grumpy old men will tell me that I chose to have children – it is a “lifestyle choice” – and I should stop moaning about it. I’d like to know who they think are going to be paying for their pensions in 30 years’ time.

Nina Montagu-Smith

Journalist specialising in Money, business, economics and communications. Remoaner, big time. Saboteur-in-chief.

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