It's not that women want to leave their jobs to take care of their children, it's that they're forced to. "One problem is that a lot of men and women in the United States don't have paid family leave," says Kevin Miller, a senior researcher at the AAUW.
Although women will take unpaid family leave, men won't, says Miller, which is due in part to gender norms. "Research has found that men in particular refuse to take family leave if it's not paid," explains Miller. "We expect women to take leadership in a way that we don't expect men."
One solution to this problem is to offer all employees paid family leave. However, Miller notes that even when companies do offer paid family leave, men are still less likely to use that benefit.
Discrimination against mothers also plays an important factor, says Miller. Research shows that, overall, when women in the workforce have children, they experience a pay cut. But when men have children, they receive an increase pay, which experts refer to as a "fatherhood bonus."
"We see statistically that when men and women make the same choices, like having kids, that it has a different impact in that men's wages actually go up," says Miller. He also points out that rearing kids isn't a valid explanation as to why women as a whole earn less than men, because many women opt not to have children.
"Even when women stay in the workforce 100 percent of the time, never have kids, never leave the workforce — we're still experiencing a pay gap," says Miller.