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Home > Blog > The motherhood penalty
Out of Our Minds
Wednesday, March 15, 2006 1:35 AM
The motherhood penalty
Curt Rosengren on Business

Are you a woman thinking of having children? Be prepared to take a hit on the career front, according to a pair of recent studies. Planning on having more than one child? Get ready to take an even bigger hit.

Shelley Correll, the author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., said she not only found proof of discrimination in her 18-month study, she also found salaries for working mothers tended to decrease exponentially with each additional child.


In one study, a group of students were shown two similar resumes with no reference to gender or family status. The evaluations were essentially identical. Then another group of students were shown the same two resumes, except this time it was two women, one a mother and one with no reference to family status.

The outcome changed dramatically. The evaluators said they would hire the childless women 84 percent of the time. The mothers were given a job only 47 percent of the time.

The mothers also were offered a starting salary of $11,000 less than their counterparts without children.


Then she tried it out in the real world

In an undisclosed Northeastern city, she created 300 pairs of cover letters and resumes to apply for advertised midlevel marketing positions. One 'applicant' said in her cover letter she was relocating with her family. The resume mentioned the parent-teacher board position. The other cover letter said that the 'applicant' was relocating but made no mention of a family.

Early results of this study show the applicant who did not mention a family was called in for an interview twice as frequently as the mother.


Anyone surprised? What do you think? Does that reflect what you've seen out there? Any stories to share?


6 comments

Chris Bailey - 3/17/2006 11:17:44 AM
Hate to add to the lack of surprise but here it is...I figure that much of this attitude toward working moms is a perception of 'lack of commitment' to the business (and all of this just scares the daylights out of us working dads which is why most are still in the closet). As managers and execs, we still struggle with the notion that people are actually people and not cogs in a machine. We want dedication to the team and business goals, but are not willing to reciprocate that dedication to the individual's wellbeing.

Bottom line is this: we still operate with old industrial age management thinking even in a time when it doesn't work.
genevieve - 3/16/2006 1:33:18 PM
Hmm, I think this has just happened as a matter of fact. Though I suspected my inability to get an interview at this job would have been because of age rather than family obligations - in Australia I like to think that is more of an issue. Very interesting.
romense - 3/15/2006 6:08:20 PM
http://www.sh3bwah.com/web/index.php sory
romense - 3/15/2006 6:06:13 PM
The day I returned to work from maternity leave, I got “laid off,� never to be rehired. Essentially, I was fired. This is supposed to be illegal, but if the firm is deep-pocketed enough, they can get around the laws. In my case, they hired an employment attorney who advised them to claim “lack of business� to allow them to keep my job open. The firm then promptly hired someone else to take my place, and naturally, it was a man. I did not pursue it legally, because, as a new first-time mom, I did not want the stress of the legal challenges in my life. In fact, the whole thing came as a blessing in disguise, because I eventually was able to wrangle a freelance writing career out of it—one where I get to work at home AND take care of my now almost-three-year-old. But discriminatin against women who have children? Yup. Got that first-hand. It is real, my friends. It is now.
Tumerica - 3/15/2006 4:19:17 PM
The day I returned to work from maternity leave, I got 'laid off,' never to be rehired. Essentially, I was fired. This is supposed to be illegal, but if the firm is deep-pocketed enough, they can get around the laws. In my case, they hired an employment attorney who advised them to claim 'lack of business' to allow them to keep my job open. The firm then promptly hired someone else to take my place, and naturally, it was a man. I did not pursue it legally, because, as a new first-time mom, I did not want the stress of the legal challenges in my life. In fact, the whole thing came as a blessing in disguise, because I eventually was able to wrangle a freelance writing career out of it--one where I get to work at home AND take care of my now almost-three-year-old. But discriminatin against women who have children? Yup. Got that first-hand. It is real, my friends. It is now.
Jenny - 3/15/2006 11:36:26 AM
Nope, not surprised at all. What this tells me, a single mother, is: Don't mention family situations until the offer is on the table. At that point negotiation is expected and it's the perfect time to find out what the company is really made of with respect to any lip service about work-life balance.

Now, I haven't experienced such discrimination myself, that I'm aware of anyway. But I have been on the receiving end of comments about 'leaving early' at 5pm because I have to pick up my kid at daycare, or manufactured awe about how I 'do it' as a working single mother. People who want to penalize me financially for choices I made years ago are not the people I want to work for or with. If anything, this study shows the importance of researching hiring companies thoroughly to ensure their culture is amenable to one's situation.

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