The ‘Motherhood Penalty’

13 May

I came across a fascinating and outrageous phenomenon via the excellent Sociological Images: the ‘motherhood penalty’.

According to a 2008 article, mothers are frequently penalised for being parents. Their perceived competence in the workplace decreases, whereas men’s increases, when they become parents. The authors quote the following statistics, among others:

  • Employed mothers in the US suffer a per-child wage penalty of on average 5%
  • The pay gap between mothers and non-mothers is larger than the pay gap between men and women
One possible reason for this, the article’s authors hypothesise, could be that “cultural understandings of the motherhood role exist in tension with the cultural understandings of the ‘ideal worker’ role”: ideal mothers are expected to spend all of their time doting on their children, whereas the ideal worker spends all of their time working or being at their job’s beck and call.
The article is quite long and complicated as it necessarily has to give details of the study design, but it’s worth reading all of it for the fascinating insights into people’s unconscious evaluations of women, men and Afro-Americans it provides.
You can see Shelley Correll, one of the study authors, speak about the subject here.


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