NBER Working Paper: Child Penalties Around The World

2 mins read
September 5, 2023

The Child Penalty Atlas by Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais & Gabriel Leite-Mariante offers a global exploration into the costs of parenthood on gender employment discrepancies across continents. By employing an event study methodology, the research tracks how employment trajectories of men and women evolve pre and post the birth of their first child.


  • Latin America: Highest average child penalties at 38%. Most countries face significant penalties, with Caribbean exceptions like Cuba and Haiti being outliers.
  • Africa: The continent has the lowest penalties (9%). A deeper dive showcases Central Africa’s impoverished countries having minimal to no penalties. Countries in Northern and Southern Africa, which have a slightly higher level of affluence, tend to have higher penalties.
  • Asia: A diverse picture emerges. While China and Southeast Asia witness small child penalties, there’s a sharp contrast with countries like Japan, South Korea, South Asia, and the Middle East. We see both extremes: staggering penalties of 62% in Bangladesh and 64% in Jordan, with no penalties in places like Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
  • Europe: The variance continues. Scandinavia boasts minor child penalties, yet English-speaking countries, Central Europe, and much of Southern Europe reflect more significant penalties.
  • Child Penalties, Marriage Penalties, and Economic Development: Gender employment gaps follow an inverted U-shaped trend as countries shift from middle to high-income. The decline in gender inequality does not stem from a decrease in child penalties but rather from structural changes in labor markets that amplify the negative effects of having children over time.
  • Dynamics Forming: National development reveals marriage penalties, but economic progress also highlights child penalties, hinting at alternative catalysts for gender inequality. High-income regions show family structures as paramount influencers on gender equality.
  • Factors Behind Child Penalties: A sectoral shift from agriculture landscapes to industrial ones mollify child penalties. In contrast, the upswing in formalized employment roles and accelerating urbanization exacerbates these penalties. This underscores how fluid labor markets and evolving societal paradigms can magnify the gender gap.

What they’re saying:

  • A View From Above: Post-childbirth employment trends reveals that while men’s job stability remains untouched mainly, women often face a downturn in job opportunities or retention. The geographical variance is massive: Latin America has a pronounced 38% average child penalty. This is trailed by Asia’s mixed bag of penalties, then Europe, North America, and Oceania.
  • A Tale of Great Variation: Europe presents a relatively consistent narrative of child penalties for women across its spectrum. Asia, on the other hand, brings to the table a dramatic range, sometimes with marked discrepancies even between neighbouring nations. Latin America, in contrast, paints with broad strokes, showcasing extensive child penalties. Africa is an intriguing case, delineating a noticeable disparity based on the developmental status of countries, revealing diverse child penalties.
  • Urban Areas See Larger Effects: Zooming in on urban spaces, the study establishes that city confines tend to have steeper child penalties when juxtaposed against their national averages. This implies a heightened challenge for urban-dwelling working mothers.
  • Marriage Penalties vs. Child Penalties: Venturing beyond just childbirth, the research touches upon the implications of marriage. In certain nations, women grapple with employment challenges merely on account of being married, even before factoring in child-rearing responsibilities. This underscores the nuanced layers of gender inequality, demanding a holistic perspective.


It can be challenging to navigate the intricate lattice of child penalties, marriage implications, gender disparities, and economic trajectory. However, addressing child penalties is crucial to achieving gender equality in the labor market (and other matters of family policy) as economies grow and evolve. We need multifaceted solutions considering family dynamics, labor environments, and societal shifts to do so.

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