By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter

BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – Brazilian working mothers earned, on average, eleven percent less than women without children in 2009, according to new research. The ‘motherhood penalty,’ as sociologists call it, has increased considerably in recent years: in 1992 working mothers earned four percent less than their childless peers.

Carinhoso Brasil
President Dilma Rousseff speaks at the launch of Carinhoso Brasil (Caring Brazil), a package of measures designed to reduce child poverty, photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr.

The unpublished research, seen by The Rio Times, also points to a significant wage increase when motherhood is postponed. In 2009 women who had their first child between 25 and 34 years of age earned on average R$8 an hour, while women who first gave birth between 18 and 21 earned slightly more than R$4.

Researchers Maíra Andrade Paulo and Laetícia Rodrigues de Souza conducted the study at the Center for Regional Planning and Development (Cedeplar) at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.

The research did not look at the pay of Brazilian fathers and men without children, but an award-winning 2007 study carried out in the United States revealed U.S. mothers suffered an average wage penalty of five percent per child.

Ms. Paulo said the new research in Brazil suggested women who delay or eschew motherhood are better able to equip themselves for highly skilled or professional work and leadership roles through training and education.

“Women without children, or who have children later in life, can invest in their human capital,” she said, adding that the cost of staying out of the market has increased from 1992 because the demands of the labor market have grown. “This makes it increasingly difficult for women to reconcile work and children.”

The wage gap is more pronounced between white women than between black or mixed-race women, and in metropolitan areas compared to rural regions. “Historically, black and mixed-race women have been less able to invest in their human capital,” Ms. Paulo said, “For example if a woman is receiving minimum wage, and leaves the workforce, when she goes back she will still be on minimum wage.”

Mother daughter
Many women take breaks from their careers to bring up children, photo by Chico Ferreira/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

Daniel Bento Teixeira, a project coordinator at NGO CEERT, dedicated to racial and gender equality, said the research pointed to a need for greater gender equality. “Nowadays, men need to share the duties connected to childhood,” he said.

He blamed some employers for their reluctance to hire women out of suspicion they would go on maternity leave. “It’s not rare to see employers give young women this handicap.”

Renata Bonora, a project manager in Rio, is nearing the end of her maternity leave and plans to go back to work gradually from January, using childcare once her son turns one-year old. “The price is outrageous!” she said.

“If I choose to enroll him full-day, five days a week, then I have to say I’d work to pay his tuition,” Bonora explains, adding that she felt lucky to have a boss who allowed her flexibility.

Ultimately though she admits she will “have to wait and see” if her career was negatively affected long-term. “I have close friends who lost promotions in their jobs because they had children in the middle of the process,” she shared.

Gender equality in Brazil has improved overall under current President Dilma Rousseff, the first female president in Brazil. The proportion of women cabinet ministers increased from seven percent under former President Lula to 27 percent under Dilma.

Women in key roles include Chief of Staff Gleisi Hoffmann, Planning Minister Miriam Belchior and Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira. In 2012 Dilma handpicked Maria das Graças Silva Foster to run Petrobras, and Magda Chambriard leads the National Petroleum Agency.

In part because of these measures, between 2011 and 2012, Brazil advanced from 82nd to 62nd on the World Economic Forum “Global Gender Gap Index.”

However, its performance in some areas remains poor. It came 72nd for participation of women in the work force and 120th on salary equality between men and women. A IBOPE study showed just 13.7 percent of executives in Brazil’s 500 biggest companies were female in 2010.


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