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Why is Lisa a bad mother but Tom is a great Dad? – Child Penalties are a thing!

“Despite considerable gender convergence over time, substantial gender inequality persists in all countries. Recent work highlights the importance of parenthood for the persistence of gender inequality in labor market outcomes.” These are the first two sentences of a recent study on child penalties[1].

Depressing right?

The study looked into so-called “child penalties” in 6 countries, conveniently for us including the 3 countries Sandburg currently focusses on: Denmark, UK and Germany.

The results show that up to 10 years after the birth of their first child mothers earn 21%, 44% and a whopping 61% less respectively.

And fathers? They remain unaffected. In other words, the world keeps turning as it did before their child was born, earnings continue on the trajectory they were on before.

So why does this happen? Of course, we can do the age-old song and dance of the conservatives and say women opt out of full-time work because they want to be with the family, they are just very “nurturing”etc. While that may well be true for some, it is

1. Not “not true” for men

2. Simply not right.

A person – whether male or female- should not have to choose between earning

money and being with their family.

In addition, while some of the argumentation may be true for some women, there are just as many for whom this is not true. I do not need to venture far for anecdotal evidence of this – my close friend Lisa* regularly receives flak for having her daughter in daycare full-time while she works: “How can you leave your poor child in daycare for so long?” “I just think she is too little for that, it’s a bit cruel” “Everyone should of course do what they think is right, but I just feel people who do that are bad mothers” “Why have children if you are just going to give them to someone else?” are comments she regularly has to endure.

But, I can hear you think right now, if those people feel that way? Surely they should be allowed to have an opinion? Absolutely! They should. What gets me is: why is no-one (literally!) ever (literally!) asking her husband Tom* the same questions?

Because no-one does, I asked him.

Why is Lisa a bad mother for doing the exact same thing Tom does but Tom is not a bad father?

No need to rely on my anecdotes though, Kleven et al. uncovered the same trend:

They present a chart showing results from the International Social Survey Program, focusing on a question of whether women with children under school age or in school should work outside the home or stay at home. The chart plots their estimated child penalties against the number of respondents who think women should stay at home, revealing a very telling correlation between the child penalties and conservative gender norms.

So, for mothers, the choice is: do you want to be guilt-tripped consistently while staying on the salary trajectory you were on before your child was born or do you want to give in and become dependent on someone else financially? For fathers, there is no choice that needs to be made – other than speaking up against this.

Because you can and you should.

In conclusion, the more conservative the country, the higher the child penalties for mothers, making Germany the number one offender in the Sandburg “universe”.

If you are an employer who just realized you do not want to be seen as gender-conservative and attract talent that would not define themselves in that manner, reach out to us to help counteract child penalties by building a Sandburg:

If you are working for an employer who would benefit from having a Sandburg or in a city that should have one for freelancers, please reach out:

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[1] Kleven et al. ,Child Penalties Across Countries: Evidence and Explanations”, March 2019

*names changed

Julia Pedersen is the founder and CEO of Sandburg work-life-combination hub which aims eliminate the career penalty and guilt that comes with being a parent and also loving ones job. “By day” she is a strategic HR, learning and organizational development specialist, currently working as gender equality commissioner. Since August 2016, she is also a mom. Both academically and in her career – in the finance and automotive industry as well as with the United Nations - she has always been driven by a strong sense of justice, with gender equality and diversity being at the core of every decision.

Sandburg website:

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