Woman Asks Partner for Payment to Offset Lost Income During Pregnancy and Postpartum

A viral reddit post sparked debate over just how high the financial cost of motherhood really is.

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There is a famous comic strip that shows three women and three men, each wearing business attire and assumed to be part of the heteronormative narrative, and lined up to race along a track. The punchline that feels pretty close to home to many is that the women have a series of obstacles to slow them down while the men do not. Want to guess what the obstacles are? If you said domestic chores like cooking and laundry, you are correct. If you are an economist, you might call this cultural phenomenon the 'motherhood penalty.' One woman on Reddit is lighting up the internet by directly challenging it.

In a Reddit post that went gone viral, but has been deleted, user @husbandmaybefather asked for some advice on how to handle a unique request made by his common-law wife. The couple, who are living together but not legally married, is planning on having a child, and the wife wants her husband to compensate her for the lost income she would incur, colloquially called the 'motherhood penalty.'

According to a report by CNBC, Census data shows that the 'motherhood penalty' costs cisgender women an average of $16,000 in lost wages per year, in addition to only making a national average of 71 cents for every dollar a man makes.

"Her workplace allows for maternity leave for up to a year but only provides 50 percent of her salary for up to 6 months. The remaining six months are unpaid," he shared in his post. He explained that her insurance would cover most of the hospital-related costs such as prenatal and labor and delivery costs, but that since she would be missing six months of work, she is out $50,000. His wife wants him to cover that wage gap since she is bearing the brunt of the work to bring a child into the world, which will impact and possibly derail her career.

This wife isn't the only one thinking long and hard about career breaks and how it affects income. LinkedIn recently created a unique addition to their resume platform that allows profiles to highlight when and why potential candidates took career breaks.

"To understand more about career breaks, we recently surveyed nearly 23,000 workers and more than 4,000 hiring managers and found that nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of employees have taken a break at some point in their professional career, and just over a third (35 percent), mostly women, would like to take a career break in the future," LinkedIn wrote in a statement.

But while it may feel like a progressive step in the right direction to normalize the gaps in employment that working parents may need to take, not all employers are on board. LinkedIn noted in their statement that one in five hiring managers "outright rejects" such candidates. Other employers, however, think that these career breaks might be a creative way to find candidates with unique skill sets that they may not be able to identify on a traditional resume.

"I really do not know how to process this," the original poster continued. "My first thought is shock, because, despite our salaries, $50k-$100k is a lot to demand. The idea of a payment plan to have a child is just gross. And many couples manage to do this without paying their wives to have children. But then, I suppose most couples are married legally, and a loss to one person's income is a loss to everyone. So in our situation, it makes logical sense, but there's something so transactional about it that puts a bad taste in my mouth."

The husband also explained that his wife requested to go to a lawyer and have a legal agreement drawn up that would secure her financial stability if they divorce (or break up) so that both parents are financially responsible for the child.

Many of the more than 9,000 comments on the original post, which are still available online, appear to point out the hypocrisy that the father should not have to be financially liable despite the mother's labor, lost income, and potential career-changing obstacles that she will likely face once she enters parenthood.

One commenter called @latenerd summed it up by writing, "So you want her to take ALL the physical and financial risks of starting a family, but you don't want her to be compensated for any of it. You want her to commit her physical and financial health, but you also want to be able to easily walk away in the event of a divorce. You make well into 6 figures, but you are 'turned off' by the idea that she should get any financial security from you for bearing your children, which would irrevocably change her body and career trajectory."

We don't know how this particular marital argument eventually settled if, at all, but the question of how to fairly compensate pregnant people and families for time lost is a conversation worth having.

In 2020, during some of the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 10 million mothers stayed home to take of their families, causing many of them to lose their careers and stunt their financial earning potential. Since mothers tend to be the parent who bears the most burden of domestic work, including child-rearing, it makes sense to start talking more frankly about how we can do a better job as a country when it comes to balancing family with careers.

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