Mothers in the Workplace

MOTHERS IN THE WORKPLACE….Via MoJo, here’s a fascinating piece of recent social science. A couple of researchers tried to estimate the effect of being a mother on your likelihood of getting hired for a high-paying management job. So they created a bunch of identical resumes for men, women, whites, and blacks, and then paired them up so that each resume in the pair was identical except that one applicant in each pair was a parent and the other wasn’t.

The manipulation was fairly subtle. On the resumes, one member of each pair listed PTA membership while the other listed a neighborhood fundraising affiliation. In addition, the covering memo for parents included the phrase “Mother/Father to Tom and Emily. Married to John/Karen.” The non-parent was described as simply “married to John/Karen.”

Results are shown on the right. The reviewers rated mothers as less competent and less committed to their careers, proposed lower starting salaries for them, and consistently recommended them at lower rates both for initial hiring and for likelihood of promotion. They also demanded higher exam scores from mothers and were less tolerant of them being late to work. The researchers concluded that all of these effects derived primarily from the first two:

To a large extent, mothers are rated as less hirable, less suitable for promotion and deserving of lower salaries because they are believed to be less competent and less committed to paid work.

The opposite was true as well. The highest scores for competence and commitment also went to women ? but in this case it was those with no children. Apparently, the reviewers felt that a woman who had sacrificed the chance to have children must be ultra-committed to work. Here’s how the competence/commitment rankings fell out:

  • Female non-parents

  • Male parents

  • Male non-parents

  • Female parents

The differences were smaller for men, but worked in the opposite direction. Apparently men without children are viewed as less competent and committed than “normal” men who choose to have kids.

It’s just a single study, and there are lots of interactions that are hard to control for here, so take it with a grain of salt. Still, the results are surprisingly robust considering the minuscule changes that were made to the resumes and covering notes. Food for thought, no?