The Motherhood Penalty: It’s not just about pay

Categories: Career, Parenting, The Juggle, Working? Living?


When it comes to earning a salary, the gender gap is old news. An article in Business Week says that, according to a recent study, the new inequality is the difference in pay between working women who are mothers and those who aren’t.

It’s easy to focus on the paycheck — mothers were offered an average of $11,000 less in starting salary than non-mothers, the study found — but working moms often aren’t only struggling for equal pay, they’re often struggling for equal respect as well. And that may be even more difficult to come by.

In “The Motherhood Penalty: Working Moms Face Pay Gap Vs. Childless Peers,” sociologists Shelley Correll, Stephen Benard, and In Paik point out that used fake resumes to conduct two separate experiments. The first looked at how mothers (who were identified as such on the resumes) were evaluated by prospective employers. The second measured the chances that mothers¬† would land an interview or be recommended for hire, compared to childless women, fathers, and childless men.

Ready for the results?

Women who identified themselves as mothers were consistently rated as less competent and less committed to their jobs than non-mothers. But men who identified as fathers were rated more positively than non-fathers.

In an interview about the study, researcher Correll says, “I was not surprised to find that mothers were discriminated against, but I was very surprised by the magnitude of the discrimination.¬† With gender or race, we often talk about the subtle ways that stereo-types are disadvantaging.¬† With mothers, the effects were huge, such as being about 100 percent less likely to be recommended for hire than childless women and being offered much lower starting salaries.

Two quibbles:

1.) If a candidate is “100 percent less likely to be hired,” that would mean that the candidate is never hired, wouldn’t it? The study showed that the childless female “candidates” were 2.1 times more likely to be called for an interview than the ones whose fake resumes indicated that they had kids. (Male “candidates” received the same number of interview requests whether they said they were fathers or not.) So, that means that female “candidates” with kids were 50 percent less likely to be hired, not 100 percent. Point taken, but the number crunching is confusing.

2.) If you’re not applying for a job that requires experience with children, and unless you’re opting back in to the workforce and have a career gap that warrants an explanation, why mention your kids on your resume at all?

Working moms, do you put parenthood on your resume? And do you think you’ve been deemed less competent in the office because you still have kids at home?

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16 comments so far...

  • If I were sifting through resumes, I’d also ding people who put their motherhood status on their resume. If they put it on there, that tells me that THEY think it’s relevant to their prospective job. Or, that they are letting me know that it’s going to take priority over a lot of professional stuff. And therefore, I would be skeptical about such a person’s commitment/judgment.

    Most women I’ve worked with, including the most competent ones, have been mothers. However, I guarantee they did not put their kids on their resume. That doesn’t mean they would lie or hide it, only that they know how to separate their professional goals from their parenting goals.

    I don’t really care whether the same thinking applies to men. The point is that women know how their communication about children is going to come across, and if they choose to report it a certain way, then they are choosing to accept the result that they know will follow. For many women, it’s important that their prospective employer know they don’t intend to work a minute past 5pm, etc. That’s fine. But if that’s not the impression you want to give, be a little smart about it.

    SKL  |  June 22nd, 2009 at 1:53 am

  • I have never put it in a resume, and never would.
    However, I had an interview, where they asked questions so they could “feel” out my commitment to working. Such as, “You may have to go out of town for up to a week at a time. Will that be a problem if we hire you? ” I landed that job, and was later told, that knowing I was of child bearing age, they wanted to find out if I had children and what kind of limits that would put on me. They still hired me. I’ve been here over 2 years, and haven’t had to go out of town overnight once. So, even if you don’t include “Mother” on your resume, they will sometimes try to get that info out of you during the interview.

    Erica  |  June 22nd, 2009 at 1:55 pm

  • I don’t really see why you would put it on your resume unless there are a lot of volunteer leadership type positions you hold that obviously involve your children (PTA president, Team Coach, etc.). But then I never really understood putting ‘hobbies’ on a resume either! (but that’s just me).

    Regardless - i think this is just one of those weird things to stir up trouble. There are SO very many factors here that aren’t considered (or at least mentioned, I couldn’t find the details of the study)! Location of the job (local culture matters!), type of job, job requirements, etc.

    I have had friends in late stages of pregnancy (and VERY obvious!) get hired, promoted, etc., over childless women and men more than once. And yet, I have also had friends take off their wedding rings before interviewing so as to appear single and available to being attached to work!

    If you really want a job somewhere and sense they are worried about ANYTHING in your qualifications (or lack there of) - it’s up to you as the candidate to discuss and ease those fears, convincing them you are the best person for the job. Is it harder? Maybe, but who says the men aren’t selling hard too?

    I hypothesize that these studies are actually showing that some mothers are just not as good at instilling confidence in their abilities and selling their skills when compared to men (and apparently, childless women). Isn’t this something every other study states over and over? How women constantly neglect their careers by not standing up for themselves, not pushing for better treatment, not asking for raises, etc.? Just look at the maternity leave policies in the US! yuck! and yet we go ‘ok’ and deal with it. Why? Because many women live in fear that saying anything will jeopardize their employment status. And studies like this just instill that fear even more!!!

    *stepping off soapbox*

    Kate  |  June 22nd, 2009 at 5:57 pm

  • I never put it in my resume that I have children. I think it is not relevant to the job application. However I try to apply for a job only if that will give me flexibility with respect to parenting.

    Lakshmi  |  June 23rd, 2009 at 9:54 am

  • interesting,
    I have never ever encountered that.
    I have gotten jobs over single women without kids a number of times and know for a fact that I make much more than other women without children.
    I think it depends on the area you live in and level of job.
    I am in the NYC metro area and that doesnt seem to apply here at all.

    debr  |  June 23rd, 2009 at 9:29 pm

  • 2) I wouldn’t. If it has not bearing on the job, I would not discuss my family situation, whatever it might be, at an interview. It’s none of their business, and, I believe, illegal for them to ask. Right?

    Robyn  |  June 24th, 2009 at 1:09 am

  • Actually, I think that I AM less competent than the women I work with who do not have children. I am absolutly less committed and available than they are. This is all very difficult for me to both accept and process.

    I also think that this will not always BE the case, that round about the time others are slowing down, I will be freed up to jump back in more fully.

    No, I would not list motherhood on my resume, but I have twice been passed over for jobs as a result of my parental status…once while very obviously pregnant…a single guy got that job and once by a working mother, which was extrodinarily insulting.

    NotCarol  |  June 24th, 2009 at 1:40 pm

  • I’m really curious how they identified both the moms and dads as parents on their resumes. Unless they were VERY old-fashioned formats like I see in the archives. Actually, I occassionally still see those; mostly from foreign candidates who don’t seem to realize you don’t have to tell us all that in a resume.

    I guess it depends on what dedication means. My mother had a job that required frequent travel; it just meant she found child care situations that could accomodate it; even on last minute notice.

    I did a lot of work from home when my daughter was younger; now I have set nights where I get a sittern and work late, just as my boss has set nights he goes home early to be with his kids. He actually gets more flak than I do which I find sad.

    Mich  |  June 24th, 2009 at 6:21 pm

  • I have never put any aspect of my home life on a resume - and my career field does not have any areas or requirements that marital status or mention of children be made. In fact, if I received a resume from man or woman that had this information displayed, I wouldn’t consider them. It’s totally irrelevant to the position(s) we’d be looking for.

    The only non-work related items I put or look for are external memberships or activities that relate to your professional life or may have bearing on it. For instance, I do include my membership to the International Association of Emergency Managers and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association.

    Phe  |  June 25th, 2009 at 8:09 am

  • I, too, am aware of the study showing that mothers earn less than women without children. Inequalities and unfair practices like this are several of the things that drove me into entrepreneurship……..out of necessity, honestly! And, when I was finally in a position to ‘do the interviewing,’ it was important for me to find people who could ‘balance’ their dual identities and do the job at hand. We all have personal lives and personal identities, but what employers are looking for is commitment and loyalty. In my own business, I’ve always found that if I’m realistic and allow people to be there for their kids’ school functions, the occasional field trip, or to pick-up a sick child in the school clinic, that when it comes to ‘crunch time,’ they’re happy to pitch-in, because they feel like they’ve also fulfilled their ‘Mom’ roles, rather than that they’re pulled in two, different directions. But, I AM realistic enough to know that NOT ALL women can balance dual roles with ease. I must admit that I would question a woman who notes motherhood on a resume………..UNLESS if applies directly to the position for which she’s applying……..perhaps working in a pediatric office; driving a school bus; running a daycare, etc. The subject of children comes up naturally enough with women in general conversation…….so the applicant could bring this up, IF they felt it to be that important. Employers should also consider the fact that ‘mothers’ make excellent employees for many reasons……..they can naturally handle several things at once; they usually have a high threshold for dealing with conflict & stress; they’re great problem solvers; they make good organizers; they’ve learned to deal with various personality types; and finally, most of them NEED the job, so they’ll do everything they can to KEEP the job, once they’re hired. Sometimes it’s best to view the glass as half-full!

    Mary Davis, Author, THE ENTREPRENEURIAL MOM  |  June 25th, 2009 at 11:14 am

  • I agree with a lot of what is said here. Not sure where you would put that on a resume and why?
    It is sad that it is a noticeable trend. However, I as a distant future mom still have to work more hours than moms, but get paid the same. They are always coming in late, leaving early, doctors appointments, dentists, games, school plays, etc. I understand they have to do these things, as I will expect to do them when I become a parent. But from the point of view of an employer or another employee - moms are out of the office a lot and expect allowances and still expect the same treatment and pay as those that are working more.
    Men, however - when married give the appearance of being more stable, dependable and responsible… and they also know that the mom will carry the brunt of the out-of-office time. So it kinda makes sense!

    Mon  |  June 25th, 2009 at 11:35 am

  • I NEVER put any non-work related, personal business on my resume. I consider parenting my love, hobby, passion, and I prefer that perspective employers no as little as possible about my personal life coming into an interview. In fact, I don’t wear my wedding ring to interviews, or mention any details about home life. I focus strictly on the business at hand, drawing as much of the conversation back to my employment experiences or questions job-related. I keep the small talk to summer vacation plans, weather, and new technology in my field.

    I am appauld at the discriminations mothers experience; however, I have worked with many unreliable full-time working mothers in my life, and I must say–it’s not surprising…just very disappointing.

    Meredith  |  June 25th, 2009 at 1:42 pm

  • I think this is absolutely true … and something I started to face as soon as I became a mother in 2006. I’ve worked for the same company for 9 years, and we had a mini-reorg within our department when my son was about 8 months old. We were individually taken out to lunch to learn of our new roles. I was excited bc it sounded like a promotion.

    I was told not to share the news with anyone until after they’d made the announcement later that afternoon. Instead, my “promotion” turned out to be a lateral move while everyone else received senior titles. Nothing in my life had changed when I had my child … same hours, same commitment. Nothing else warranted that treatment, except perhaps “motherhood” and what that meant in their eyes.

    Do I believe in motherhood inequality and pay discrimination? You bet I do!

    Stephanie  |  June 25th, 2009 at 2:06 pm

  • I agree with what has been said here… when I’m giving talks and need to give an advertising “bio” for a talk, I’ll put that I have kids and a husband and dogs. But in a resume, no way. I don’t put anything personal.

    OTOH, I can tell you that my current supervisory job is alot like being a parent!! You are expected to do lots of little things that no one gives you credit for, and no one really notices. And then there are the interpersonal problems between employees that are just like handling squabbles with children. So being a mom actually really does come in handy, but that doesn’t mean I put it on my resume!

    Finally, I agree that I *am* less available than I used to be before children. I don’t leave late from work, eschew personal after work events, and don’t like to travel if it isn’t really important. I work from home much more too, so my “face time” is down. Fortunately, I’ve moved to a position within my company that is consistent with my changing needs. I know that I am lucky in that respect. When my kids are older, I’ll probably go back to longer hours and more travel. I kind of look forward to that time as well.

    spacegeek  |  June 26th, 2009 at 2:16 pm

  • I would never put it in a resume or bring it up at an interview as I feel that it is irrelevent. However, I think that mothers actually work harder than any other group because we have to. So it is a shame that we are discriminated against. I already knew that we were, though. At my husbands job, he told me that they needed a new person and was running down the things that they didn’t want and one of the things was “a person with a child”. However, at his office, they meant man or woman with a child. What shocked me more, was that my husband agreed with this! When we were thinking of hiring someone, I had suggested a friend of mine that had two children. His exclamation was also “Oh, no! Not another one. I really don’t want another person who has to worry about picking up their children or time off.” He has also made several comments as to how people shouldn’t hire women in their 20’s and 30’s because they will most likely have children and either quit or cut back. All of this totally offends me as I work harder than anyone else that has ever been in his employment. The last guy in my position that he had for 12 years was an alcoholic who would drink at work and smoke 2 packs a day, all of which hardly lends time to actual work. But somehow, a chain smoking alcoholic is easier for him to deal with than someone who needs occasional days off when school is closed.

    Oceans Mom  |  June 26th, 2009 at 4:12 pm

  • Oh, I actually have something more positive to add to my response above. Although employers look unfavorably, my customers actually have a previously missing loyalty to me. When they know I have a child, they seem to take me more seriously, especially when I am helping families find homes. They feel like I can relate to what their needs are. The customers can see that I am not out here screwing around I am working to support a family. So, although my employer sees it as a downfall, I have never had more loyal customers. It seems to humanize me to them and they trust me and stick with me. My friend in the same business said that she has had the same response from her customers. So maybe employers in the service business should realize this.

    Oceans Mom  |  June 26th, 2009 at 4:34 pm