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Ivanka Trump made a great point on the gender wage gap

Republican National Convention: Day Four Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Ivanka Trump devoted a decent chunk of her Republican National Convention speech Thursday night to talking about gender pay equity in the United States — and dug into the statistics in a particularly smart way.

Trump started where most discussions of the gender wage gap start: with a comparison of men and women’s earnings, noting that women earn less:

Women represent 46 percent of the total US labor force, and 40 percent of American households have female primary breadwinners. In 2014, women made 83 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Single women without children earned 94 cents, whereas married mothers made only 77 cents.

But she goes beyond the sound bite to talk about why that gap exists:

As researchers have noted, gender is no longer a factor creating the greatest wage discrepancy — motherhood is.

I don’t know where, exactly, Ivanka’s numbers come from (and they might be slightly optimistic – full-time working women actually earned 77 cents on the dollar in 2014, compared with full-time working men). But the general idea here is spot on: Motherhood has become an incredibly important part of understanding the gender wage gap.

"Women without children generally have higher earnings than women with children," Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, a leading researcher on the gender wage gap, wrote in a 2014 review of the research, noting in her footnotes that a "large literature" confirms that fact.

One study in 2014 found that women’s wages decline 6 percent with each child they have. Another 2013 study found that mothers earn 7 to 14 percent less than other working women. Economists argue that this happens, in part, because raising children demands a flexible schedule — but many jobs don’t promote or reward workers who can’t commit to very specific or very long hours.

Here is how Columbia professor Jane Waldfogel put it in her widely cited 1998 article on the issue:

Despite the narrowing of the gender gap in recent years, the family gap in pay between women with children and women without children is, if anything, growing larger. Although women without children have made gains in the labor market, women with children have not kept pace. It is at least as true today as it was a decade ago that for women in America, ‘‘the greatest barrier to economic equality is children.’’

And this is essentially the point Ivanka Trump made in her speech: that the gender wage gap is a lot more complex than one statistic.

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