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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Michelle Budig

Second Advisor

Joya Misra

Third Advisor

Jessica Pearlman

Fourth Advisor

Nancy Folbre

Subject Categories

Demography, Population, and Ecology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Gender and Sexuality | Inequality and Stratification | Sociology


This dissertation explores the connections between changing family structures and economic inequalities in the United States. While previous research shows that motherhood lowers women’s earnings, few studies explore how wage penalties for motherhood change over women’s lives. Moreover, most research examines only the baby boomer cohort; consequentially, little is known about how millennials experience this wage penalty and how such burdens of motherhood have changed across cohorts. This study investigates whether and how the motherhood wage penalty changes both across women’s life course and cohorts with these questions: (1) Does the motherhood penalty change over women’s lives? (2) What are the transition patterns to motherhood among millennials? (3) Does the motherhood wage penalty vary between baby boom and millennial cohorts? and (4) What factors are associated with these variations in motherhood wage penalties? Using panel data from the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, I found that among baby boomers child penalty increases a few years after their first childbirth and peaks with having teenagers. Baby boom mothers no longer suffer significant wage penalties during their later years of motherhood. The findings also show that marriage is associated with a greater likelihood of transitioning to motherhood among millennials. Higher education correlates with a decreased likelihood of becoming a mother among white and Latina women, but not among black women. The last set of findings indicates that millennial mothers receive smaller or no child penalties compared to baby boom mothers. Married mothers within the baby boom cohort receive the largest wage penalty while conversely their millennial counterparts enjoy a wage boost. The intellectual merits of this dissertation are twofold. First, whereas most prior studies treat the effect of motherhood on earnings as an average effect over time, I examine how this wage effect varies across women’s life course. Second, although much has changed in the work and family lives of subsequent cohorts, most studies focus on the motherhood wage penalty among baby boom women. This study thus has expanded the scholarship to examine the motherhood wage penalty and the transition to parenthood among millennials.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.