Gender pay gaps receive due attention in high quality academic (e.g., England 2005) and non-academic research worldwide (e.g., IWPR, OECD), as well as in the media. It is often overlooked, however, that the size of the gap (and the gender difference in other labor market outcomes, such as career interruptions and their length) varies by job characteristics, such as occupational status, as well as by individual characteristics, such as age and, as discussed below, parenthood status.
The existence of wage cuts incurred by working mothers across countries and welfare regimes (henceforth “motherhood penalties”) is a well established, albeit not always well understood, phenomenon (e.g., Budig et al. 2016; Abendroth et al. 2014). In Poland, for example, there is a common misconception that mothers do not incur such penalties. One major reason for this is that OECD reports systematically show that Poland has one of the smallest gender pay gaps (GPGs) among all OECD nations. This leads many to infer that, since the gaps are small, there must not be motherhood penalties.
The problem is that these data do not control for important productivity characteristics, such as education, working hours, and experience. For example, in Poland (and elsewhere), women are better educated than men, which means that simple unadjusted estimates would understate gender pay gaps. The simple approaches are also misleading insofar as they do not control for occupational prestige, job complexity, and income. Studies conducted in the U.S., for example, show that the size of the gender pay gap is correlated with these variables (England et al. 2016). That is, women in high prestige, more demanding, and better-paying jobs experience higher penalties, especially when they become mothers, than women in low and medium level occupations.
So, is the situation in Poland as rosy as the OECD estimates make it out to be?