Mothers Earn Just 71 Percent of What Fathers Earn

Emma Williams-Baron, Julie Anderson, M.A., Ariane Hegewisch, M.Phil.

May 23, 2017
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Mothers Earn Just 71 Percent of What Fathers Earn

Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) analysis of data from the American Community Survey finds that in 2015, mothers’ median annual earnings for full-time, year-round work ($40,000) were just 71.4 percent of fathers’ earnings ($56,000). Mothers have substantially lower earnings than fathers whether they are married/cohabitating or single. Married or cohabitating mothers’ median annual earnings for full-time, year-round work were just 73.3 percent of married or cohabitating fathers’ earnings ($44,000 compared with $60,000, respectively; Figure 1). Single mothers’ full-time, year-round median annual earnings were just $31,100, compared with $44,000 for single fathers, a wage ratio of 70.7 percent (Figure 1).

The Large Majority of Households with Children Include a Working Mother

When all working parents with earnings are included—whether they were working full-time, year-round, part-time, or part-year—mothers’ median annual earnings ($30,000) were only 58.8 percent of fathers’ ($51,000) in 2015. More than seven in 10 (70.9 percent) of the 33 million households with children under age 18 included an employed mother. The most common household type with children was a dual-earner married or cohabiting couple (51.0 percent). Single mother households with children made up 16.6 percent, and married or cohabiting couples in which only the mother had earnings accounted for 3.2 percent of all households with children.


Households in which only the father had earnings were less common (23.7 percent). Nearly 20 percent (19.7 percent) of all households with children had a married or cohabiting father with earnings while his spouse did not, and 4.1 percent were headed by a single father with earnings. In one in twenty (5.4 percent) households with children, none of the parents were employed.

The effects of earnings inequity compound and accumulate over the lifetime, with each year’s disparities continuing to affect women’s future economic security into retirement.

Correction (5/26/2017): this publication originally overstated the number of families with children that rely on women’s earnings. The publication has been updated to be more accurate.