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Motherhood penalty

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Subject: Women in the United States, Occupational sexism, Motherhood, Economic inequality, Gender pay gap
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Motherhood penalty

The motherhood penalty is a term coined by sociologists who argue that in the workplace, working mothers encounter systematic disadvantages in pay, perceived competence, and benefits relative to childless women. Specifically, women may suffer a per-child wage penalty, resulting in a pay gap between non-mothers and mothers that is larger than the gap between men and women. Mothers may also suffer worse job-site evaluations indicating that they are less committed to their jobs, less dependable, and less authoritative than non-mothers. Thus, mothers may experience disadvantages in terms of hiring, pay, and daily job experience.[1][2][3] In assigning a starting salary to the applicants, participants offered non-mothers an average of $11,000 more than mothers.[4] An audit study also showed that prospective employers were less likely to call back mothers for interviews than non-mothers.[5] The motherhood wage penalty is not limited to the United States, and has been documented in over a dozen other industrialized nations including Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Australia. The penalty has not shown any signs of declining over time.[6]

Causes of the motherhood penalty

The most frequently hypothesized explanation of the motherhood wage penalty is that childbearing and childrearing disrupt formal education and on-the-job training.[5] However, evidence suggests that educational and training differences between mothers and non-mothers do not entirely explain the penalty for motherhood. Lower wages for women with children may reflect the choices made by mothers, like trading more flexible hours for lower wages. However, it also may reflect employer bias and discrimination.[7] The different assumptions behind these theories are important because it leads to different hypotheses of what the true causes of the gender wage gap are.[5]

Economic theories

Economic theories largely focus on comparing differences between the skills, traits, and behaviors of the workers themselves to explain the gender wage gap. In particular, some economic theories examine statistical discrimination, which is that employers apply an unbiased standard to accurate estimates of worker productivity.[8]

Human capital theory

According to the human capital theory, having children diminishes the wages of mothers because it impedes the development of [10] However, work experience, time in school, and employment breaks only explain approximately one-third of the wage penalty for motherhood.[1]

Building upon the human capital theory explanation, mothers may also sacrifice their pay for jobs that are compatible with motherhood.[5] For example, mothers may be willing to accept lower pay in return for desirable features, such as flexible work schedules, access to paid leave, and part-time work hours. Lower paying jobs geared towards women may offer greater access to female supervisors, coworkers, and mentors and a more supportive, family-friendly environment. Almost 50% of mothers who are employed full-time would prefer to work part-time, and 80% of mothers who are employed part-time view their situation as ideal.[11] However, part-time work is not a solution to gender inequality, as part-time workers usually experience reduced employment prospects, benefits, and earnings. A study done by Rebecca Glauber, shows that mothers do not get compensated for lower wages with benefits such as flexible time schedules and paid leave. Glauber found that mothers face a larger wage penalty when they work in female-dominated jobs. This larger penalty is not offset by greater job satisfaction, greater access to part-time work schedules, flexible work hours, health insurance, paid sick and vacation time, or job-protected maternity leave.[11]

Work-effort theory

The work-effort theory partially overlaps with the human capital theory, but concentrates on the productivity of the workers.[12] This approach states that the wage penalty faced by mothers may be due to actual productivity differences between mothers and non-mothers.[13] Productivity differences can occur if taking care of children leaves mothers with less energy to exert at work.[13] Additionally, mothers may also be less productive at work because they are saving their energy for their “second shift” at home.[12] Many mothers face responsibilities at home with childcare, cooking, and cleaning. If mothers are storing their energy for later they are less productive at work.[12] The lower effort at work may reduce the productivity of women with children, thus leading to lower pay. However a critic of this work-effort theory, Waldfogel, argues that if this hypothesis is true, single mothers should have greater effort-related wage penalties, which is not found or supported in the data.[14]

Sociological theories

Sociological theories explore the cultural and societal constructs that lead to perceived differences between men and women as an explanation for the gender wage gap. Sociological theories rely on status discrimination, which argues that standards of evaluation or performance expectations are systematically biased in favor of higher-status groups and against lower-status groups.[3]

Status characteristic theory

A status characteristic is a categorical distinction among people such as a personal attribute or a role with widely held cultural beliefs attached to it that associates greater status worthiness with one category than with others.[3] A status characteristic becomes significant when it differentiates those in the setting or because the characteristic is believed to be directly relevant to the task at hand.[3] This theory states that motherhood is a “status characteristic”. When salient, this "status characteristic" results in biased evaluations of competence and commitment, the use of a stricter standard for evaluating the workplace performances, and biases against mothers in hiring, promotion, and salary decisions.[3] According to the theory, actors expect more competent task performances from those with the more valued state of the characteristic (non-mothers), compared with those with the less valued state (mothers).

These [3]

Normative discrimination

Normative discrimination stems from descriptive and prescriptive stereotyping. Descriptive stereotypes are widely shared beliefs about different traits and abilities men and women possess. Due to descriptive stereotypes men are assumed to be intelligent and assertive, which are qualities often associated with leadership and workplace achievement. Women are assumed to possess greater communal qualities and helping behavior such as warmth, empathy, and selflessness. Discrimination based on descriptive stereotypes occurs when women are seen as unfit or insufficiently competent to perform a stereotypical male job.[3] While descriptive stereotypes derive from cultural beliefs about what men and women can do, prescriptive and proscriptive stereotypes derive from cultural beliefs about what men and women should or should not do.[15] The expectations of an ideal employee and an ideal parent stem from the time when the workforce was composed mostly of men and women were confined to household duties and childcare. Stereotypical gender role expectations cause many of the challenges faced by mothers reentering the workplace.[16] Both types of stereotyping have consequences for how women are evaluated in achievement settings. For example, it is often thought that women since women are more caring they should be primary caregiver. When women break this stereotype they are liked less because they are violating the prescriptive stereotypes about women as mothers.[15]

Cultural beliefs about the role of a mother include the normative expectation that mothers will and should engage in “intensive” mothering. Mothers are supposed to prioritize the needs of dependent children above all other activities.[17] By this definition, a "good mother" will direct all of her time and energy toward her child, and therefore be a less committed and less productive worker.[18] The cultural norm that mothers should always be there for their children coexist in tension with the normative belief of the “ideal worker” should always be there for his or her employer. These normative conceptions of an “ideal worker” and a “good mother” create a cultural tension between the motherhood role and the committed worker role. These conflicting roles can lead employers to engage in normative discrimination, in which they recognize the competence of mothers but believe that it is their duty to remain at home with their children.[3]

Benard and Correll did a study that found mothers are still discriminated against even when they prove their competence and commitment. They found that evaluators viewed highly successful mothers as less warm, less likeable, and more interpersonally hostile than comparable workers who are not mothers.[3]

Highly successful mothers were perceived as significantly less likeable than highly successful fathers (but not less likeable than non-mothers). Successful mothers were also rated as equally warm as non-mothers but marginally significantly less warm than fathers. Thus, compared to otherwise identical, highly successful fathers, mothers are penalized on two of the three interpersonal ratings, being seen as less likeable and warm.[3]

Motherhood as "status of choice”

Discrimination against mothers also stems from beliefs about control, choice, and autonomy. The concept of choice leads people to perceive disadvantaged individuals as responsible for their own condition, regardless of the social circumstances or unfair application of the disadvantage (see above: fathers do not face penalties for their choice to become parents, only mothers do).[17] In the context of discrimination against mothers in the workforce, beliefs about choice and control affect the penalties associated with becoming a mother. In the past, most women eventually became mothers. Today, more and more women are not becoming mothers largely due to the pursuit of career aspirations and educational goals by women. Therefore, motherhood is increasingly viewed as a choice that women have the freedom to make. Since motherhood is seen as a choice, employers view mothers as choosing children over their work. When a situation, such as motherhood, is perceived as controllable, the moral judgment associated with that perception leads to discrimination. Consequently, mothers who are perceived as having more control over their status as mothers are penalized more than mothers who are perceived as having less control.[17] Mothers’ wages are penalized more in states where motherhood is perceived to be a woman’s choice. An experiment done on hiring practices showed that mothers are discriminated against more strongly, in terms of hiring and salary recommendations, when understandings of choice were primed.[17]

Effects of the motherhood penalty

The motherhood penalty describes how mothers suffer severe wage and hiring disadvantages in the workplace.[19] Studies have found that under the age of 35, the wage gap between mothers and non-mothers was even larger than the wage gap between men and women.[20] The status of motherhood has important ramifications on hiring, promotion, and salary processes.

Wage penalty for motherhood

Motherhood penalty is significant to the gender wage gap because studies found that employed mothers are the women that account for most of the gender wage gap.[21] Research shows that hourly wages of mothers are approximately 5% lower (per child) than the wages of non-mothers.[5] The wage penalty incurred by women for motherhood varies significantly across nations as do work-family policies. Therefore, it is unclear if variations in motherhood wage penalties are linked to specific work-family policies.[22] Women in lower wage jobs suffer a greater percentage of loss in hourly wages as a result of motherhood than women in more highly paid professions.[23] Budig and Hodges did a study using the National Longitudinal Analysis of Youth 1979 dataset that confirms that the penalty for motherhood as a proportion of wage is much larger for low wage women.[24] Part of this is simply that low wage women drop out the most and therefore, when they re-enter the workforce they incur a pay penalty for their lost experience. Even after adjustments for experience, Budig and Hodges found lower wage women to have higher penalties. These findings possibly reflect the less family-friendly firms they work for and/or their low bargaining power on matters of flexibility.[25]

Hiring penalty for motherhood

Mothers are less likely to get hired than non-mothers.[5] Corell and Bernard created a study that looked at the hiring practices and preferences of employers.[4] They created hypothetical job seekers with resumes and other materials. 192 Cornell undergraduates were asked to evaluate them as candidates for a position as marketing director for a start-up communications company. They created two applicant profiles that were functionally equivalent. Their resumes were both very strong; they were very successful in their last jobs. When presenting these resumes, no one preferred one applicant over the other and they were seen as equally qualified. Next, a memo mentioning that the applicant was a mother of two children was added to one of the profiles. The resume was also modified to show that the applicant was an officer in a parent-teacher association. This time when participants were asked if they would hire these applicants, participants said they would hire 84 percent of the women without children, compared with only 47 percent of the mothers. These findings showed that mothers are 79 percent less likely to be hired.[3] In assigning a starting salary to the applicants, given a pay range appropriate for the job, participants offered non-mothers an average of $11,000 more than mothers.[4] An audit study also showed that prospective employers were less likely to call back mothers for interviews than non-mothers.[5]

Promotion penalty for motherhood

In a laboratory experiment, participants evaluated application materials for a pair of same race, same gender job applicants who were equally qualified but differed on parental status. The results strongly support the discrimination hypotheses. Relative to other kinds of applicants, mothers were rated as less competent, less committed, less suitable for hire, promotion, and management training, and deserving of lower salaries. Mothers were also held to higher performance and punctuality standards.[3] The study showed that mothers are 100% less likely to be promoted. Mothers are assumed to be less competent and committed than women without children.[3]

In the model predicting likelihood of promotion, the main effect of parental status is marginally significant and positive, while the motherhood penalty interaction is significant and negative, indicating that the negative effect of parental status on perceptions of promotability accrues only to women. Mothers are also less likely than other types of applicants to be recommended for management.[3]

Motherhood vs. fatherhood

Several recent studies find a wage penalty for motherhood in the United States. Men do not suffer this penalty. Men's wages are either unaffected or even increase after having a child.[1] A study by Stanford sociologist Shelley Correll found that employers perceived mothers as less competent than childless women, and also perceived childless men as less competent and committed than men who were fathers.[26] In fact, researcher found that fathers are 1.83 times more likely to be recommend for management than childless men, a difference that is marginally significant. For female applicants, childless women are 8.2 times more likely than mothers to be recommended for management.[3] This difference between mothers and fathers is partly due to cultural norms about gender roles and mechanisms present in the market that create disadvantages for mothers from reduced bargaining power or employer discrimination.[27]

Reconciliation policies

There have been many welfare policies that attempt to resolve the effects of the motherhood penalty. Reconciliation policies include policies such as paid or unpaid parental and family leave, childcare policies supporting subsidized or state-provided care, and flexible work-time policies.[28] Reconciliation policies aimed at improving economic opportunity and equality of mothers should focus on lifting the time constraints on women and changing social norms of gender roles.[29] Theoretically, work-family reconciliation policies should give mothers (and fathers) the opportunity to advance in the workplace, while also ensuring that their families receive adequate care. While all reconciliation policies may support work-family balance, these policies draw upon different assumptions about women’s roles in society, and therefore may lead to diverse outcomes regarding equity.[28]

An alternative to welfare policies is a Fundamental rights approach, where a child holds the fundamental constitutional right to both care and financial support from both parents on an equal basis, unless the parents expressly agree otherwise (or adoptive parent(s) assume such responsibilities). As paternity has become more and more inexpensive to prove and as more and more evidence comes in on the benefits to children from Shared Earning/Shared Parenting,[30] the fundamental rights approach is gaining more credence and becoming easier to establish as a legal matter. One example of this is the United Kingdom, which has a parental responsibility concept in the law that requires parents to meet the needs of children, such as a right to a home and a right to be maintained. The law does not see children as having a right to care by both biological parents as a default matter. Instead it holds responsible all mothers but only (a) married fathers (for any child born to the father's wife) and (b) unmarried fathers who assert such responsibility in an agreement with the mother or by court order. It also states that all parents have financial responsibility for their children.[31] The law has not been amended since paternity testing became more inexpensive.

Welfare policies

Joya Misra, Michelle Budig and Stephanie Moller did a study looking at the consequences of these different welfare strategies.[28] The study focuses on welfare state regime strategies with an emphasis on workfamily reconciliation policies meant to help men and women reconcile their roles as workers and parents. The study looks at the effects of these strategies on labor force participation rates, wage rates, and poverty rates, analyzing the effects of motherhood and marital status on labor force participation rates, annual earnings, and poverty rates. They argue that four major strategies that have appeared:

1) primary caregiver/secondary earner strategy (where women are treated primarily as carers, and secondarily as earners) - focuses on valuing the care engaged by women.

2) primary earner/secondary caregiver strategy (where women are treated primarily as earners, and secondarily as carers) – focuses on encouraging women's labor market participation.

3) choice strategy (where women are treated primarily as earners, and secondarily as carers) – focuses on providing support for women's employment, but also gives women the choice of emphasizing caretaking young children.

4) earner-carer strategy (where women are treated as equally involved in both earning and caring) - focuses on helping men and women balance care and work through support for care both inside and outside of the home.[28]

The study suggests that the earner-carer strategy is most effective at increasing equity for the widest array of women.[28] In this strategy, motherhood is associated with the least negative effects on employment, as well as on poverty levels. The researchers do acknowledge that a range of other policies such as tax policies, unemployment insurance, family allowances, child support, housing subsidies could also be shaping the outcomes.[28]

Leave policies

Leave policies are intended to support parental caregiving while enabling employment continuity. Leave length impacts employers’ perceptions of mothers’ employability and mothers’ earnings. Moderate leaves reduce pay gaps by ensuring women remain attached to their workplace while children are infants; however, leaves that are too short or too long increase pay gaps because they are linked to decreases in employment continuity and earnings.

Maternity leave

Maternity leave is a temporary period of absence from employment granted to mothers immediately before or after childbirth.[32] Maternity leave helps mothers return to their previous employer due to the increased legal protection. With maternity leave, mothers are now more likely to return to their previous employer due to the increased legal protection. The policy minimizes the negative externalities of motherhood by maintaining women’s employment options following maternity leave. A negative aspect is that maternity leave can reduce the incentive for businesses to hire women.[29] Opponents have also stated that maternity leave is harmful because it reinforces that care work is still women’s work.[33] Providing maternity leave and not paternity leave can reinforce normative roles of women as the primary care providers, which can perpetuate the motherhood penalty by strengthening and confirming employer biases. Maternity leave is a social policy that takes that current social norms and tries to work around them instead of changing them.[29]

Parental leave

Parental leave is an employee benefit that provides paid or unpaid time off work to care for a child.[34] This includes maternity, paternity, and adoption leave. Extending the leave for fathers as well as mothers helps close the motherhood penalty because it helps to reduce the responsibility of care work on mothers. According to Motherhood Manifesto, family leave will also help out the company by saving money on training and recruitment because this leads to higher job satisfaction and in return will lead to better work productivity.[35] A criticism of paternal leave is that even with the options available more mothers take the leave than fathers due to social norms and economic reasoning.[36] Men are typically paid more than women, so if the leave is unpaid then it makes economical sense to have the woman take the leave. Therefore, primary responsibility of care work still typically falls on the woman. One potential solution to this problem is to cover a greater proportion of earnings during paternity leave.[29] Men appear to be more responsive than women to the coverage of earnings during leave and so paying them more during their leave is one way to encourage fathers to actually take advantage of paternity leave. Giving men incentives to take on more care duties at home attempts to change the norms around care work.[29]

Publicly funded childcare

Childcare policies for children under the age of three were adopted to provide education and to support parents’ employment.[37] Across nations, high levels of childcare positively affect women’s labor market participation. Childcare costs are also associated with women’s employment. State-provided or state-subsidized childcare may decrease the motherhood earnings penalty by allowing mothers the opportunity to engage in paid employment. State-funded childcare works to change the norms and expectations of mothers and fathers by transferring the carework to a third party provider.[38] However, childcare facilities are more likely to exist in a culture supportive of maternal employment.[37]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Budig, Michelle; Paula England (2001). "The Wage Penalty for Motherhood". American Sociological Review 66 (2). 
  2. ^ Anderson, Deborah; Melissa Binder and Kate Krause (2003). "The Motherhood Wage Penalty Revisited: Experience, Heterogeneity, Work effort and Work-Schedule Flexibility". Industrial and Labor Relations Review 56: 273–294.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Correll, S.; S. Bernard and I. Paik (2007). "Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty?". American Journal of Sociology: 1297–1338. 
  4. ^ a b c Alol, Daniel (Aug 2005). "Mothers Face Disadvantages in Getting Hired". Cornell University. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Staff, Jeremy; Jaylen Mortimer (2012). "Explaining the Motherhood Penalty During the Early Occupational Career". Demography 49 (1): 1–21.  
  6. ^ Bernard, Stephen, In Paik, and Shelley Correll. "Cognitive Bias and the Motherhood Penalty." Hasting Law Journal (2008): 1359-1388. Web.
  7. ^ Harkness, Susan; Jane Waldfogel (2003). "The Family Gap in Pay: Evidence from Seven Industrialized Countries". Research in Labor Economics. 
  8. ^ Phelps, Edmund (1972). "The Statistical Theory of Racism and Sexism". American Economic Review 62 (4): 659–661. 
  9. ^ Becker, Gary (1985). "Human Capital, Effort, and the Sexual Division of Labor". Journal of Labor Economics 3. 
  10. ^ Joshi, Heather; Pierella Paci and Jane Waldfogel (1999). "The Wages of Motherhood: Better or Worse?". Cambridge Journal of Economics. 
  11. ^ a b Glauber, Rebecca (2012). "Women's Work and Working Conditions: Are Mothers Compensated for Lost Wages?". Work and Occupations 39 (2): 115–138.  
  12. ^ a b c Cukrowska, Ewa (2011). "Investigating the Motherhood Penalty in a Post-Communist Economy: Evidence From Poland". 
  13. ^ a b Livermore, Tanya; Joan Rodgers and Peter Siminski (2010). "The Effect of Motherhood on Wages and Wage Growth: Evidence for Australia". University of Wollongong Economics Working Paper Series. 
  14. ^ Dechter, Evgenia (2011). "Maternity Leave, Effort Allocation and Post-Motherhood Earnings". 
  15. ^ a b Rudman, Laurie, and Peter Glick (2001). "Prescriptive Gender Stereotypes and Backlash Toward Agentic Women." Journal of Social Issues 57.4: 743-62. Web.
  16. ^ Nelson, Sofia, and Hilary Lips (2009). "The Motherhood Penalty: "Sequencing Moms" Pay a Price."n. pag. Web.
  17. ^ a b c d Kricheli-Katz, Tamar (2012). "Choice, Discrimination, and the Motherhood Penalty". Law & Society Review 46 (3): 557–587.  
  18. ^
  19. ^ Correll, Shelley (2001). "Gender and the Career Choice Process: The Role of Biased Self‐Assessments". American Journal of Sociology 106 (6): 1691–1730.  
  20. ^ Crittenden, Ann (2001). The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued. New York: Metropolitan Books.
  21. ^ Glass, Jennifer (2004). "Blessing or curse?: Work-family policies and mother's wage growth over time.." Work and Occupations 31: 367-394.
  22. ^ Budig, Michelle; Joya Misra and Irene Boeckmann (2012). "The Motherhood Penalty in Cross-National Perspective: The Importance of Work–Family Policies and Cultural Attitudes". Oxford Journal 19 (2): 163–193.  
  23. ^ Lisa Quast (2011-06-26). """Taking A New Look At "The Motherhood Penalty. Forbes. Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
  24. ^ England, Paula, Jonathan Bearak, Michelle Budig, and Melissa Hodges. "Is the Motherhood Wage Penalty Worse at the Top or Bottom?" Princeton, n.d. Web.
  25. ^
  26. ^ Ruth Schechter,Motherhood penalty remains a pervasive problem in the workplace", GenderNews, 22 November 2009.
  27. ^ Gangl, Markus; Andrea Ziefle (2009). "Motherhood, Labor Force Behavior, and Women's Careers: An Empirical Assessment of the Wage Penalty for Motherhood in Britain, Germany, and the United States". Demography 46 (2). 
  28. ^ a b c d e f Misra, Joya; Michelle Budig and Stephanie Moller (2006). "Reconciliation Policies and the Effects of Motherhood on Employment, Earnings, and Poverty". Luxembourg Income Study Working Paper Series. 
  29. ^ a b c d e World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development. The World Bank. 2012. 
  30. ^ . (See discussion at  
  31. ^ "Parental Rights and Responsibilities". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  32. ^ "Maternity leave". World English Dictionary.
  33. ^ Curtin, S.; S. Hofferth (2006). "Parental Leave Statuses and Maternal Return to Work After Childbirth in the United States". Work and Occupations 33 (1): 73–105.  
  34. ^ "Parental Leave." WorldHeritage. WorldHeritage Foundation, n.d. Web..
  35. ^ Blades, Joan; Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner (2006). The Motherhood Manifesto : what America's moms want and what to do about it. New York: Nation Books. 
  36. ^ Malin, Martin (1994). "Fathers and Parental Leave". Chicago-Kent College of Law. 
  37. ^ a b
  38. ^

External links

  • The Motherhood Penalty, video clip from sociologist Shelley Correll
  • Nancy Folbre (2010-10-25). "Rich Mom, Poor Mom". (Economix: Explaining the Science of Everyday Life ed.). Retrieved 2012-10-15. 
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