How Social Security Offsets The “Motherhood Penalty”

September 6, 2021

When women leave the workforce to raise children, they often suffer a hit: They lose earnings and benefits if they don’t have a paid maternal leave.

Down the road, the “motherhood penalty” impacts women at retirement, since Social Security benefits are based on lifetime earnings.

“When women become mothers, their earnings often take a substantial, and permanent, hit that becomes larger with each additional child,” according to researchers with the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (CRRC).

“The question is, how do Social Security provisions address this motherhood penalty once women enter retirement? The results show that Social Security offsets a substantial portion of the motherhood penalty, both for mothers in general and for each additional child.”

Although Social Security offers some relief, “Despite Social Security’s equalizing role,” the researchers concluded, “a motherhood penalty will remain in retirement without policy intervention, such as earnings credits for caregivers.”

At the very least, when doing retirement planning, do a benefits estimate based on your current earnings. It’s easy to do with the the Social Security Retirement Estimator. It should be the essential first step for anyone doing retirement planning.