Getty ImagesWe know there is still work to do to close the wage gap between women and men. But researchers at Cornell University say there is another gap to close between two groups of women--mothers and their peers without children. They call it the "motherhood penalty" because they found through an experimental study that if two women with similar experience and skills apply for a job, the one who is a mother is less likely to get it.
Using fake resumes for two equally qualified candidates-one childless, one a mom-the researchers found that the mother was 100-percent less likely to be hired when she applied for a position. Mothers were consistently ranked as less competent and less committed than women who were not moms. "I was not surprised to find that mothers were discriminated against, but I was very surprised by the magnitude of the discrimination," wrote Shelley Correll, now an associate sociology professor at Stanford University and one of the lead researchers. "With gender or race, we often talk about the subtle ways that stereotypes are disadvantaging. With mothers, the effects were huge, such as being about 100% less likely to be recommended for hire than
childless women and being offered much lower starting salaries."
In another study by the researchers, fake resumes were used to apply to 638 real jobs (entry-level and mid-level marketing and business jobs) during an 18-month period. Tracking interview requests, childless women got 2.1 times as many callbacks as mothers with similar credentials. There was no difference among fathers and childless men.
Any work that shines light on discrimination against any group of workers is valuable. My only concern with the first part of this particular study, which received a prestigous work-family research award, is that the fake resumes of fictional women were reviewed and acted upon by "paid undergraduate volunteers." Sure, some of the undergrads may one day work their way into hiring manager positions, and that's a big concern if they look at mothers negatively when they get there. I think (and hope) you'd get a very different outcome if all of the resumes were placed before seasoned HR professionals, though the second part of the study is truly discouraging. If the women's experience and skill sets were truly similar, a good hiring manager would not see a negative in motherhood. A really good one would see the added value that a parent's perspective can bring to a job.
Still, plenty of research studies have documented a wage gap between mothers and nonmothers. Ann Crittenden, author of "The Price of Motherhood," found for women under the age of 35,
the pay gap between mothers and nonmothers is larger than the pay gap between men and women. So, despite the experimental nature of the research, the results are still unsettlng. Have you felt the effects of a "motherhood penalty"?