Co-Parenting After Divorce Narrows Gender Pay Gap, Improves Quality of Life for Mom, Dad, and Kids

Women, particularly single and divorced mothers, have continued to fare poorly in their struggle to earn as much as men. 

As recently as 2020, a study found that women who work full time were paid 82 cents for every dollar a man is paid. For mothers, the wage gap is even wider; mothers earn 69 cents for every dollar a man earns.

The wage gap expands further for women of color, as well as for single mothers. The phenomenon is colloquially attributed to the “motherhood penalty,” a reference to how women’s earnings go down as a result of having children while men’s earnings do not.

Given the pandemic, the wage gap is more pervasive in the U.S. today than ever before. According to the Center for American Progress, as of September 2020, four times as many women as compared to men dropped out of the labor force. The numbers have been directly attributed to a decrease in childcare as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.

With so many mothers forced out of the workplace, the expectation is that gender equality will be impacted for decades. Despite any progress, women still take on more of the household chores than their male counterparts. Where parents are divorced, this phenomenon can feel more pronounced.

Divorce can underscore the existence of workplace gender inequality. 

Even in non-pandemic times, divorce underscores the existing gender divide. When divorced women return to the workforce, or if they were already working but must transition from living in a dual-income household to a single-income one, the wage gap hits home. Women, especially single mothers, often find it much more difficult to provide for their families the way men can.

The question then becomes: What can women, particularly single moms, do to narrow the pay gap?

A 2020 study published by Emma Johnson, founder of “Wealthy Single Mommy,” points to shared parenting. The survey, which polled 2,279 single mothers across the U.S. about topics including their custody agreements, incomes, careers, and sentiments about these topics, revealed a positive correlation between 50-50 custody and career success for single mothers.

The survey found that when mothers and fathers share custody of their children equally, single mothers tend to earn a higher income. Moms with 50-50 custody are 54 percent more likely to earn $100,000 annually. Lower-earning moms who have 50-50 parenting time are two times as likely to earn $65,000.

The study also found that mothers with equal custody are 325 percent, or more than three times as likely, to earn $100,000 annually than those moms with custody 100 percent of the time. Of the moms surveyed, 51 percent of them reported having their children 100 percent of the time.

As for how moms feel about equal custody? According to the survey, 53 percent of single moms support the idea; they already have a 50-50 schedule or wish they did. More specifically, of the 13 percent of the respondents who share custody equally, 98 percent of them are satisfied with their custody agreement.

Shared parenting offers additional benefits.

Even if a couple didn’t share as much of the parenting responsibilities while married, divorce can be a natural time to invite positive change. Through the divorce process, a couple can reach an agreement about how to allocate parenting tasks, promising the best possible outcome for the whole family. Here are a few ways shared parenting can affect mothers, fathers, and kids in the short and long-term.  

Shared parenting creates more successful children.

Beyond an increase in income for single mothers, which would help narrow the gender pay gap, an equal custody agreement could benefit the children.

Research supports this idea. Specifically, children who spend at least 35 percent of their time with each parent are more likely to succeed academically, socially, and psychologically. They also enjoy better relationships with both parents.

According to another study, this one from researchers at Ohio State University and Hebrew University, the time parents spend with children is positively correlated to academic success. The study, conducted in Israel, involved 22,000 children who had a parent who died and 78,000 children whose parents divorced. The results showed that attention from the parent who remained in the house was strongly related to the academic performance of the child. The more attention the parent gave the child, the better the child did in school.

A 2017 study conducted by researchers at Stockholm University found that when parents shared physical custody of their children, the children experienced less stress than those who lived with one parent full time. This finding held for children whose parents had a poor relationship with each other or didn’t get along with either parent.

Men, like women, benefit in the workplace from shared parenting.

Amy Henderson, the founder of TendLab, says women aren’t the only ones who benefit in the workplace as a result of shared parenting.

In her new book, “Tending: Parenting and the Future of Work,” Henderson posits that when Mom and Dad are involved parents, they’re both more successful in the workplace as a result.

By engaging more fully in the household, including raising children, they become more empathetic, altruistic, and are better able to collaborate.  

This, says Henderson, is easier said than done due to inherent problems in our current infrastructure. American lawmakers and C-suite executives need to lead the charge.

The problems parents encounter are systemic; according to Henderson, with the exception of Papua New Guinea, the U.S. is the only nation that does not offer federally paid maternity leave. Only 14 percent of employees in the U.S. have access to paid family leave.

“This,” Henderson says, “sets the stage for men not taking an active parenting role at home, placing stress on women who struggle to balance their careers with parenting. Marriages often suffer as a result.”

Henderson’s findings, based on research derived from neuroscience and behavioral psychology, led her to create a consultancy offering business training programs to support working parents. The programs are designed to help parents and the companies they work for to succeed.  

Data supporting paid parental leave is nothing new. According to an article in Scientific American, California piloted a program in 2002, when it passed the country’s first Paid Family Leave program. The program, which is available to mothers and fathers equally, provides for six weeks of partial wage replacement during the first year after the birth of a child, adoption, or fostering. As it applies to mothers, the six weeks is apart from medical leave to recover from childbirth. A parent also doesn’t need to take the full six weeks contiguously.   

To test the effect of the program on companies, five years into the program, the Center for Economic Policy and Research conducted a survey of 253 employers and 500 individuals who participated. The goal was to determine if the program was a sound business practice. More specifically, the study looked to see whether participation increased employee retention, thereby reducing business costs associated with recruitment and training of new employees.

The results suggested that paid parental leave was beneficial to employers. Slightly less than 89 percent of employers surveyed reported that there was either no change or a positive change in employees’ productivity. Nine-one percent said the same of profitability/performance, 96 percent of turnover, and 99 percent of morale.

In other words, there was no downside when it came to paid parental leave. It makes sense; employees, regardless of gender, who are happy at work stay longer, which would benefit the other parent and children as a result.

Single moms who co-parent have better sex lives.

According to a 2014 study, researchers found single parents of children under five date and have sex just as often as their non-parent single counterparts. This contradicts the previous assumption that single parents would not have time to have a dating life due to the responsibilities and time necessary for raising children alone.

A potential explanation for these findings, said researchers, is that single parents (women and men) may be looking for a partner to help them raise their children or for companionship. Therefore, finding a partner to help raise children could have a utilitarian function.

If single moms share physical custody of their children with their ex, then it’s intuitive that the quality of the mom’s dating life would improve. During breaks from childcare responsibilities, single moms would have more free time to relax and practice self-care. That could include having more sex.

With more time to invest in dating, single moms stand to improve their romantic life.

Shared parenting offers divorced moms, divorced dads, and their children a better quality of life all around.

Though the methodologies are different, what all of these studies have in common is clear: shared parenting can lead to a better quality of life for the entire family. That equity shouldn’t stop just because a couple goes through a divorce. In fact, it should foster it.

Divorce is premised on offering each spouse an opportunity to better their lives, and those of their children, who might not have been getting the best of one (or two) unhappily married parents. If you weren’t getting equity at home before your divorce, a solid parenting agreement can get it for you after — at home, in the office, and in the bedroom. 

If you would like to discuss how a parenting plan can help you co-parent during and after your divorce, feel free to give one of our Seattle divorce and family lawyers a call. For more great content and a little something extra delivered right to your inbox every other week, subscribe to our newsletter.

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