Maternity leave can cost lesbian mothers over $8,000

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By Mike Anderson

When we talk about the institutionalized disadvantages of LGBT parenting, we usually talk gay versus straight. In some states, non-blood parents cannot adopt; in vitro fertilization is expensive; before the end of DOMA, filing a tax return with dependents was complicated – the list goes on. 

When it comes to maternity leave, though, there’s an even finer distinction: between lesbian women and gay men. 12 weeks’ unpaid maternity leave – the standard length – is an $8,769 affair for the average lesbian mother.

She and her partner would normally earn $94,000. But when one bears a child and takes maternity leave, this average couple earns 28.5 percent less – they’d bring home a total of $76,000.

Maternity leave can be a several-thousand-dollar choice. And it’s one many women make. About 42.4 percent take at least some unpaid leave.

Beyond that first year of parenthood, too, there are financial consequences on lesbian women that men – gay or straight – do not experience. In the long-term, women see diminishing career prospects when they have a child.

This isn’t a new finding, but it’s still noteworthy simply because the numbers are so striking. Between men and women, we see a disparity both in 1) salary and 2) leadership positions: 1) women’s pay decreases with every child they have, while, for men, there is no impact. 2) At the top of the ladder, amongst CEOs, only 49 percent of the women have children; 84 percent of the men do. 

We don’t illuminate this distinction between gay men and women to pit them against each other. For gay men, the birth of a child can also be extremely costly: surrogacy, for example, sets back gay dads at least $50,000 and upwards of $100,000.

We point out this difference only to suggest that the birth of a child still isn’t easy for queer women, and it’s because of the structure of maternity leave.

Clearly, the long-term impact of bearing a child is a tough road to navigate, but, in the short-term, there are options for lesbian women considering bearing a child. Your benefits depend primarily on your employer, your insurer and state law.

By and large, new parents are guaranteed access to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (Both men and women can take FMLA leave – they need only be parents in any sense: biological, adoptive, step or foster).

Beyond FMLA, there are a number of other options – which again, depend on your employer, insurer and state law – and some may pay you at least partially. Short-term disability insurance, sick days and vacation days, and a number of other provisions are in place for new parents in some cases. Consult with your HR rep to find out what’s best for you.

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Mike Anderson is an analyst for NerdWallet, a financial-literacy company dedicated to helping consumers make better decisions with their wallet.

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