Women in Switzerland earn 60 percent less after becoming mothers

Women in Switzerland earn 60 percent less after becoming mothers

A new study by the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) has found that mothers in Switzerland earn around 60 percent less salary after the birth of their child. Reduced working hours, and what the study called a "conservative" attitude to gender roles, mean that a large number of mothers do not get paid their previous salary up to 10 years after pregnancy.

60 percent income gap between Swiss mothers and other working women

The study found that on average, mothers in Switzerland earn 60 percent less than women who choose to not have a child - one of the highest rates of inequality in Europe according to University of Zurich Economics Professor Josef Zweimüller. This so-called “child penalty” is said to extend for 10 years after the birth takes place, while the salary of working fathers barely moves after the child is born. 

Zweimüller told the NZZ that women in Switzerland reduce their workload more after pregnancy than in other countries, "As a result, their career opportunities deteriorate and they get a lower salary." He noted that this phenomenon makes equality in the workplace harder to achieve and could lead to women having even fewer children, citing Japan as an example of a country that saw its birth rate drop dramatically as more women entered the workforce.

Gender norms in Switzerland blamed for high inequality

When asked why the “child penalty” is so high in Switzerland, Zweimüller said that the “most important reason is gender norms. In Switzerland, a traditional, conservative way of thinking about the roles of parents still dominates.” He noted that in communities where the referendum to allow women to vote was strongly opposed, the child penalty can be as high as 70 percent, while in more "progressive-leaning" areas like Zurich, this drops to 50 percent.

However, experts noted that this leaning towards traditional roles is part of national culture, with only 13 percent of fathers choosing to work part-time compared to 78 percent of mothers - in Scandinavia, 40 percent of fathers work part-time. Daniel Kop, a researcher at ETH Zurich, explained that "if a woman works part-time, this is justified by her family burden. [With] a man, on the other hand, [employers are] more likely to assume that he wants to be less involved professionally.”

Subsidised childcare in Switzerland will not solve problem, experts claim

When asked whether cheaper or more widespread access to childcare services could solve the problem, Zweimüller said that the answer is much less clear than once assumed. As part of the study, experts measured “how much the child penalty fell after the daycare subsidy was expanded" in Austria, which now has an incredibly generous childcare support programme.

"The result surprised us: the effect is almost zero, the mothers have hardly increased their employment,” he noted. This fact contradicted the evidence provided by the National Council - which is currently looking to expand childcare services in order to make it cheaper - which argues that getting mothers into the workforce via cheaper childcare would boost the economy by 4 billion francs a year.

"You can't tell mothers to work more as a thank you for cheaper daycare places," Zweimüller argued. “As long as conservative role models prevail in society, even a well-developed and inexpensive daycare centre will only minimally improve the career opportunities of mothers. The example of Austria shows this clearly," he concluded.

Thumb image credit: Michael Derrer Fuchs /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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