How Much Does Motherhood Cost Women in Social Security Benefits?

TitleHow Much Does Motherhood Cost Women in Social Security Benefits?
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsRutledge, MS, Zulkarnain, A, King, SEllen
Series TitleWorking Papers
Document NumberWP#2017-14
Date Published10/2017
InstitutionCenter for Retirement Research at Boston College
CityBoston, MA
KeywordsLabor force participation, Motherhood, Social Security, Women and Minorities

The increase in female labor force participation coupled with a higher number of women reaching retirement unmarried has increased the share of women claiming Social Security benefits earned through their own job histories. But they still bear the lion’s share of caregiving responsibilities, and the previous literature has provided clear evidence that motherhood reduces earnings during the childbearing and child-rearing years. What remains understudied is the extent to which mothers face lower lifetime earnings and, consequently, lower Social Security income. This paper uses the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) linked to administrative earnings records to answer three questions. First, how much less do mothers earn over their careers compared to childless women, and how much less do they earn for each additional child? Second, how do Social Security benefits differ between mothers and non-mothers? Third, how does each of the existing elements of the Social Security system that indirectly help mothers – namely, spousal benefits and the progressivity of the benefit formula – contribute to reducing the motherhood penalty?

Citation Key9611