working parent

Parenthood Hurts Mothers In The Workplace But Helps Fathers Which Means We’ve Made No Progress

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In news that shows we’ve made very little progress for mothers in the workplace, evidence proves that employers look less favorably on a female employee who has kids but men are viewed in a more positive light once they have children. This is not just anecdotal- there is evidence that it affects salaries and also, that the resumes of mothers are perceived differently by employers than those of fathers. Parenthood hurts mothers in the workplace but helps fathers as far as their image is concerned. It would seem that employers have not caught on to the notion that women can be successful as employees and mothers at the same time.

The NY Times reports on data from Michelle Budig, a sociology professor who has studied the disparity in pay for mothers and fathers for the last 15 years:

Yet much of the pay gap seems to arise from old-fashioned notions about parenthood. “Employers read fathers as more stable and committed to their work; they have a family to provide for, so they’re less likely to be flaky,” Ms. Budig said. “That is the opposite of how parenthood by women is interpreted by employers. The conventional story is they work less and they’re more distractible when on the job.”

Ms. Budig found that on average, men’s earnings increased more than 6 percent when they had children (if they lived with them), while women’s decreased 4 percent for each child they had. Her study was based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979 to 2006, which tracked people’s labor market activities over time. Childless, unmarried women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers earn 76 cents, widening the gap.


I think it is ridiculous that employees automatically view mothers this way and don’t take other factors into consideration. To me, the more stable employee is going to be the one who is the family breadwinner, regardless of gender. For us, my husband’s salary outweighs mine significantly and he also carries our benefits. On a day where all other things remain equal and we both have big obligations at work, I usually take the fall when the kids are sick. We simply stand to lose a lot more if he were to find himself without a job so we weigh the risks and act accordingly. That said, I imagine it going that way as well in a household where the mother is the breadwinner/benefit carrier. In this era of so many dual-income families, I really do believe that fathers are just as likely to miss work for their children as mothers, particularly if they are the lesser wage earner in their family.

Besides pay, it seems that the resumes of parents are judged differently between mothers and fathers. Shelly Correll, a sociology professor at Stanford, completed a study that yielded very discouraging results:

Ms. Correll co-wrote a study at Cornell in which the researchers sent fake résumés to hundreds of employers. They were identical, except on some there was a line about being a member of the parent-teacher association, suggesting that the applicant was a parent. Mothers were half as likely to be called back, while fathers were called back slightly more often than the men whose résumés did not mention parenthood. In a similar study done in a laboratory, Ms. Correll asked participants how much they would pay job applicants if they were employers. Mothers were offered on average $11,000 less than childless women and $13,000 less than fathers.


I always thought it kind of dated advice to not mention your children on a resume or in an interview but I guess that notion still has merit. How sad to hear that employers will discriminate against a mother without ever having met her or seeing her work ethic in action. I know from my own experience and the mothers I work with that we are all very dedicated to our jobs and that our husbands also miss time from work for various parenting obligations. As I said before, I am more likely to miss than my husband because of the financial importance of his job to our family but I work with several moms who make equal salaries to their husbands or more and their husbands take sick days and leave early for soccer practice too. I wish employers realized that this 1950’s-era idea that men becoming fathers means they are more stable employees but for mothers, it means they will be less dependable is total bull.