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Wage gap for mothers

When I heard a recent story about the wage gap between working mothers and other working women on NPR’s Tell Me More program, I was very impressed with the host of the show.  UNM economist Kate Krause was one of three guests that joined host Michel Martin to discuss current research on the topic.  Often when we read or hear news coverage of academic research findings, we discover that the conclusions of the research have been overstated by the journalist, usually in an effort to come up with a catchy headline.  For example, the title of the article about Krause’s research is, “The Newest Wage Gap Pits Working Moms Against Working Women.”  The host of Tell Me More resisted the urge to sensationalize Krause’s research findings.

Instead, she started off the interview with a great question that demonstrated responsible reporting of social science research.  Martin asked Krause if the wage gap is a result of discrimination against pregnant women and mothers or if it comes simply from self-selection, where mothers make voluntary decisions about their education and career that lead to lower wages.  This was a great way to lead off the discussion because it allowed us to find out right away if the wage gap for mothers is a systemic problem in the workplace that needs to be remedied or the result of individuals’ choices.

The discussion also gave us a good understanding of Krause’s actual research findings.  In her introduction to the program, Martin began by saying, “Researchers have found a wage gap between moms and other working women. Women who have children now earn 7 to 14 percent less than women who do not have children.”  During the interview that followed, Krause had the opportunity to clarify these results, telling Martin that the 7 to 14 percent range represents an aggregate gap.  She said that when you drill down and control for factors that can explain things like self-selection into different careers, you can reduce that gap.  After taking these steps, Krause found that most of that 7 to 14 percent gap could be explained by differences in education and time spent out of the labor force.  There still was a small portion of the wage gap that the researcher was not able to explain, which may be due to discrimination and may have public policy implications, but Martin and Krause did a good job of preparing the listeners to be educated participants in those kinds of discussions.  Instead of being an example of sensational journalism, this interview is an example of the researcher and the reporter working together to educate the public about an important issue and its real implications, something all coverage of academic research should do.