August 23, 2005

Study Finds Bias Against Mothers

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Ever since Prof. Shelley Correll, sociology, and Stephen Benard grad presented their research on parents in the workforce at the 100th annual American Sociological Association meeting this summer, their paper, “Getting A Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?,” has received national media attention.

Correll learned from others’ research that women with children earn less money than other women, even when factors such as hours worked are held constant.

Mothers earn about 5 percent less per child on average, according to her findings.

The wage gap between men and women, with women earning about 72 cents to a man’s dollar, diminishes significantly for women who do not have children.

Discrimination against mothers is different than many classic forms of discrimination because mothers are not disliked, simply held to different standards, the pair wrote. “People often assume mothers are less competent and committed than other workers,” Benard said. “They might also think mothers do not belong in the workforce.”

Correll and Benard held several studies of undergraduates, making up job applicants and asking students questions about their qualifications for a job.

In the first study, the applicants were two women with very high qualifications.

This pre-testing showed that when neither woman was thought to have a child, participants found them basically equally well committed and qualified.

In the second study, one of the women was noted as being an officer in a parent-teacher association while the other was an officer in a neighborhood association.

“After we [added the associations], they rated the person marked as a mother as less competent, less committed to her job; they were far less likely to hire her,” said Correll.

While 84 percent of the participants wanted to hire the non-mother, only 47 percent of participants wanted to hire the mother. Additionally, the non-mother was offered an average salary of $11,000 more.

When asked about tolerance for lateness, mothers were held to a higher standard and allowed to be late less than non-mothers before being considered too irresponsible for promotion.

Due to the drastic change from the results of the pretest, Correll, and Benard “were very confident that it was being seen a parent that led to this difference.”

Mothers can be disadvantaged when applying for jobs, being eligible for promotions and are generally paid less.

The researchers then held the second study again but changed the women’s names to men’s names.

They did not change any of the applicants’ qualifications.

This study of men showed opposite results to the study of women. The father was offered more money and allowed to be late more often than the man without children.

“Fathers were actually advantaged in several ways … [So we can see that] not simply being a parent but, more simply, being a mother is disadvantaging,” said Correll.

Benard told The Sun that he was glad to be able to do important sociological research but found the results to be upsetting. “The results of the finding are pretty conclusive … [and] it’s a really disturbing finding,” said Benard.

Correll feels that there are two main ways to deal with any type of discrimination: provide the disadvantaged group with survival skills or change society to improve conditions for the disadvantaged.

Survival skills for mothers in the workforce would be pretty limited; a mother may be able to hide her children in an interview but not while working long term for a company.

Some companies, particularly Fortune 500 corporations, have developed work-family policies and programs to help attract and keep talented employees.

Correll expects that these companies are less likely to discriminate against mothers.

Though these programs often cost companies money, the corporations are enacting them voluntarily.

The trend towards friendlier work-family relations has been growing in the past ten years and eliminates some elements of competition between work and family.

Family-friendly policies include providing flexible hours and day care for children during the workday. The participants in the study were University undergraduates. While others suggested Correll not do the study with undergraduates because they have more liberal gender attitudes, she feels that their supposed predisposition emphasizes the prevalence of the motherhood bias. Moreover, studies suggest that undergraduates and managers do act similarly in mock hiring practices.

Archived article by Rebecca Shoval
Sun Staff Writer