Women ‘gappers’ face lower salaries

By Carol Ekstrom

Women who interrupt careers for family reasons, including child-raising, never again make as much money as female peers who stay on the job, the authors of a new study have found.

Over time, the women career “gappers” make up some of the wage differences, but they always take home smaller paychecks than the women who never left.

Shirley Serini, assistant professor in the NIU journalism department, said she believes the gap is fair because “seniority is a prerequisite for higher pay.”

“Any time you leave the grind, you are going to fall out of step,” Serini said. “A woman makes an economic choice to have children. She is controlling her destiny.”

Serini said this phenomenon is different from the “mommy track,” an assumption that a woman will have a baby sometime in her career, and as a result is tracked differently from her male counterparts.

She said, “A woman has a choice to have children, but that control is taken away when she is placed in the ‘mommy track.'”

Coauthor Laurence Levin, an economics professor at Santa Clara University, said employers think “gappers” are bad investments.

“If you leave the work force, that signals to some employers that a woman might not be as good a worker,” Levin said.

Judy Skorek, assistant director at University Resources for Women, disagrees. “When a woman makes a personal decision to have children, this in no way reflects on her abilities to be a good worker.”

“People have to realize what is more important, the dollar value of a career or the value of raising a healthy, well-adjusted child,” Skorek said. “It has to come down to what is important to the individual.”

Kathleen Larey Lewton, APR, public relations counsel for St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio, is in agreement with Skorek. She objects to motherhood being treated any differently than other ‘outside things.’ “In my experience, women who reach top levels strip other things out of their lives, and their motherhood interferes less with their jobs than is true of men and their outside interests.”

The study scrutinized 2,426 career women interviewed eight times between 1984 and 1986. Their ages ranged from 30 to 64 and each had one or two work gaps over a 20-year period of at least six months each.