The Motherhood Penalty

A sociological term referring to the systematic disadvantages in pay, perceived competence, and benefits for working mothers, compared with childless women.

Credible academic research determined that women suffer a substantial wage penalty, just for becoming mothers. In studies cited in the American Journal of Sociology, participants evaluated application materials for a pair of same-gender equally qualified job candidates who differed only in their parental status. The experiment found that mothers were penalized on a host of measures, including perceived competence and recommended starting salary. Men were not penalized for, and sometimes benefited from, being a parent. The studies showed that actual employers discriminate against mothers, but not against fathers, hence the motherhood penalty.

Mothers experience unfairness in the workplace on top of those commonly associated with sex. For example, the studies found that employed mothers in the US suffer a per-child wage penalty of approximately 5%, on average. In summary, the researchers concluded that, for those under the age of 35, the pay gap between mothers and non-mothers is larger than the pay gap between men and women! Employed mothers are the group of women that now account for most of the “gender gap” in pay.

The disadvantages women with children face are not limited to pay, either. The researchers found that evaluators rated female consultants as “less competent” than when consultants are described as not having children. Similarly, other studies show that visibly pregnant female managers are judged as less committed to their jobs, less dependable, and less authoritative, but warmer, more emotional, and more irrational than otherwise equal women managers who are not visibly pregnant.

Correll, J., Benard. S., (2007 March) Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 112, No. 5 pp. 1297-1339 The University of Chicago Press-


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