Family Matters

The Motherhood Penalty: We’re in the Midst of a ‘Mom-Cession’

Married mothers find it harder to secure a new job after being laid off and when they do, they earn less than married fathers

  • Share
  • Read Later

More men than women lost their jobs in the recession, making for some catchy terminology: “he-cession” has a lyrical ring to it. But, according to new research, some women are faring worse than others. Married mothers are experiencing a triple whammy: compared with married fathers, they’re experiencing more of a gap between jobs, they’re less likely to find a new job at all, and once they’ve secured a new paycheck, they earn considerably less. As it turns out, the “man-cession” may actually be a “mom-cession.”

“There does appear to be a motherhood penalty,” says study co-author Brian Serafini, a University of Washington doctoral candidate in sociology.

Moms are struggling longer to land a new position and earning less once they find one, even after controlling for education level and previous job and earnings histories. The research, to be presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver, Colo., sheds light on how having children can influence an employer’s opinion about a potential employee’s value.

When Serafini and his co-author, Michelle Maroto, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alberta, originally looked at broader categories of men and women in general, they found no gender difference in terms of how long it took people to find new employment. “We were suspicious,” says Serafini, who proceeded to further break down the groupings into single and married people and those with or without children. The researchers relied upon U.S. census data collected in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 from the Displaced Workers Supplement, part of a monthly household survey.

(MORE: Marissa Mayer: Is the Yahoo! CEO’s Pregnancy Good for Working Moms?)

The researchers were right to be skeptical: once kids entered the equation, conclusions changed considerably. “We found that the story is little bit more complicated,” says Serafini.

Married women with kids who lost their jobs between 2007 and 2009 had a 31% lower chance of finding a new job than married fathers with kids. But their alter-egos — single women without kids — were taking less time to find new jobs compared to similar men. In fact, single women who weren’t moms had a 29% greater chance than single men without kids of finding a new job.

The study didn’t examine the reasons behind the disparities, but Serafini has a pretty good idea what may be at play. “When making hiring decisions, employers have assumptions about mothers,” says Serafini. “There are stereotypes that they will be less productive employees because they will have to pick up their kids and leave work early.”

The funny thing is, research has found that moms are every bit as dedicated to their jobs as women without kids — or men, for that matter. In 2008, the Families and Work Institute’s National Study of the Changing Workforce found that women with and without children are equally ambitious. What women contribute to the family coffers is far from trivial, says Ellen Galinsky, the institute’s president. They are responsible for 45% of family income, with more than 1 in 4 women earning at least 10% more than their husbands.

“Despite these demographic changes, the results of this study indicate that stereotypes still appear to affect hiring decisions,” Galinsky wrote in an email. “Employers would do better to concentrate on talent — on who could do the best job — rather than make assumptions about men and women, which in this day are age are unlikely to be true.”

(MORE: About that ‘Atlantic’ Article, Why Working from Home Isn’t the Answer for Working Moms)

Married moms’ struggle to find a new job is even more striking considering that the current labor market appears more favorable to women, with vacancies in traditionally female-dominated service fields such as education and caregiving.

Pay inequities abound once women do find new jobs. Previous research has discovered that employees rejoining the workforce tend to net lower salaries, and the University of Washington findings bore that out. The study found that married moms in the 2010 survey earned $175 less each week than married fathers, which adds up to more than $9,000 a year.

It also concluded that married women without children were earning significantly less than their male counterparts. And single women with children were earning less than single men with children. But there was no significant difference between single men and women without kids and their reemployment earnings.

“When talking about the economic prospects for laid-off workers, we miss something when we just look at plain old sex differences,” says Serafini. “We speculate being a mother sends a signal to an employer that they may be less productive in the workplace.”

The solution? Dash the stereotype that it’s mom who’s solely responsible for kids’ care and feeding. The proportion of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past decade, for example, though it’s still small at 3.4%.

“The more men engaged in caregiving and the more men who identify as primary caregivers, the more likely it will be that people won’t assume that women’s job performance will diminish because of her kids,” says Brad Harrington, executive director of the Center for Work & Family at Boston College. “People will realize it’s just as likely for men to make trade-offs and compromises. But that’s going to be a long time coming.”

MORE: Mother Is Best? Why ‘Intensive Parenting’ Makes Moms More Depressed

99 comments
Steve Folino
Steve Folino

Having children is more or less optional.  There's no law in this country requiring people to produce offspring.  In my opinionj, it's more like a hobby.  If a woman wants to spend her time, energy and money on her hobby (having and raising children), so be it.  As soon as we treat it as optional and stop making society pay women to have children (higher welfare payments, greater tax breaks, etc) and instead penalize them for burdening society with their hobby, the sooner we'll get society back on track.  The way I see it, ther more children you have, the greater burden on society and thus the more taxes you should pay.

JeffersonAirplane
JeffersonAirplane

Seems to me this topic is very complex.

First off, I'm tired of hearing about THIS subgroup of the population, or THAT subgroup of the population, is having a WORSE recession than the other. Obviously, when things are tough, SOMEONE will have it tougher than someone else. Stop trying to create rifts between these groups! Unless someone is just trying to sell magazines, of course.

Second, with the advent of FREE TRADE, shipping a LOT of jobs overseas left fewer jobs here in America. Everyone now fights for whatever jobs they can get. So now, you have college educated applicants taking jobs they wouldn't have taken previously, former breadwinners working at WAL-MART, and teens competing with these folks! Gee, I wonder why teen unemployment is so high! Add in the recent stock market rip-off to this equation, and now you also have SHOULD-BE RETIREES also feeding from the now-reduced jobs pool. More applicants ALWAYS depresses pay/benefits, for ALL.

Third, do you think any job that offered health benefits would want to "pay" the additional "costs" associated with motherhood applicants? By that I mean all the reasons that have already been stated in regards to absences etc., AND the costs to the health insurance plan. Employers are cut-throat these days, and lets face it...any GOOD mom will (amp; should) place their family before work. Too bad our laws don't encourage family-friendly employment. Because that STOCK PRICE    M*U*S*T    K*E*E*P   I*N*C*R*E*A*S*I*N*G!    After all, that IS what feeds the political machine (Campaign contributions, thank you very much, (conservative/legislating) U.S. Supreme Court!).

Lee Lynn
Lee Lynn

When Obama forces institutions to provide contraceptive products and services to women, it's no surprise to me that women in their child bearing years will be viewed differently moving forward.  Shame on Obama for imposing HIS sense of right, wrong, fair, unfair etc on this country. So much for our Constitution and our nation of laws.. 

Emerson
Emerson

In his second term The Great Obama will initiate his Equal Pay For All initiative. All workers will receive 1,000 Obamabucks a month to spend on Michelle-approved foods, goods, and services. There will be no bosses, only workers working together to move Forward as work will set you free.

Cypherlock
Cypherlock

"The funny thing is, research has found that moms are every bit as dedicated to their jobs as women without kids — or men, for that matter."

Total BS. Anyone who's been around young mothers knows they are the ones always leaving work early, or coming in late, missing days, or demanding every single holiday off because they "deserve" it more than single employees or nonparents. The stereotype fits because it is correct, and anyone who has held a job will confirm it. Once the kid arrives, it is numero uno, and everything else suffers. Period.

Jerry Cox
Jerry Cox

More Libtard BS from (way past its freshness date) Time 'Magazine'. What we need is more  Meritocracy, not I'm a loser because of my race/gender/orientation/ aunt fanny was afraid of the dark so the Government has to intervene on my behalf Liberal Bulldirt

wippitywopwop
wippitywopwop

This separatism is getting old.

If a married father gets a job, his wife benefits.  We're in this together.  Quit bìtching

wippitywopwop
wippitywopwop

We're all in this together - end the separatism.

If a married father has a job, that means his wife  is benefiting.  Quit bitching!

Ṩụẹ
Ṩụẹ

Maybe the reason single women are hired more than married w/children has less to do with who will hire them, than the job options married w/children have. There are restrainsts based on home and family responsibility, like finding a job near school or day care, what hours can be worked, availability for travel or relocation, commuting time, etc. Singles have many more options available and, as the field widens, so do job offers.

sgreco1970
sgreco1970

"The study didn’t examine the reasons behind the disparities, but Serafini has a pretty good idea what may be at play. 'When making hiring decisions, employers have assumptions about mothers,' says Serafini. 'There are stereotypes that they will be less productive employees because they will have to pick up their kids and leave work early.' "

in other words, they don't know but they selected one guess out of a million and stated it as though that would make it truer than any other.

JilliC
JilliC

Giveaway number #1: doctoral student and prof in Sociology. Famous for having social agendas.

Giveaway #2 (and this is a big one): although previous research says men were impacted more, when they didn't find big differences, "they were skeptical" that women weren't impacted more. In other words, they tortured the data until it gave the answer they expected (wanted).

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

My only thought about this is less about hiring mothers than it is about why mothers don't "earn" as much as non-parent women or men. 

I would like to see the study show what the salaries and pay scale is in the first place, and the amount of time spent on the job by each of the three (married, single and men).  My guess is that woman with kids spend more time away from work due to kids than single women and men (married or not) tend to do.   That lost productivity is likely the reason there's a difference in earnings rather than an inherent discrimination on the part of the employers.  If the figures show married men earn less than single men, that would lend credence to the theory that it's time at work which determines earnings levels rather than gender discrimination.

The simple reasoning is that you should get paid for being at work doing the job.  If you're not at work doing the job, you shouldn't get paid for it.  I expect this is what causes the majority of any discrepancies between the "earnings" of a mother versus everyone else.

KJak
KJak

Wow - what incredibly bad editing.  It was difficult to read this article for all the simple errors left behind by its proof-reader.  

rdevaughn
rdevaughn

My question is, how could you make sure women and men were paid the same amount of money if it turned out that (for whatever reason) women were not as good at negotiating their salaries?

I can't imagine any reason why men may likely think they are worth more... <coughs>... ego...</coughs>

Talendria
Talendria

When a child is sick, someone has to stay home with them.  When a child is struggling in school, someone has to spend time at the school (volunteering, eating lunch in the cafeteria, meeting with the faculty).  When a child has a medical or psychological problem, someone has to leave work early to take them to therapy.  In most families, the mother gets stuck doing these things both because of the traditional gender role and because the father usually earns a higher salary which makes his employment status more important.

I understand the employer's perspective.  An employee who leaves work early and has an unpredictable schedule may be less productive and less reliable than an employee who apparently has no personal life.

I also understand the mother's perspective.  We worked just as hard as our male counterparts to get through college, pay off our student loans, and establish a career.  We're not willing to settle for less pay and fewer promotions.

In order to rectify the inequality, attitudes and policies have to change.  Fathers have to bear the burden of childcare equally.  (This is impossible if the father's job requires travel.)  Employers have to accommodate flexible work schedules.  (This is difficult in many industries.)  It's a conundrum.

This is why I gave up my career when my son was born.  After seeing my co-workers abandon their children to daycare for 10-12 hours/day and getting stuck doing their work when they had to leave early, I decided I didn't want to be a crappy mother or a crappy employee.  It was a terrible waste of my education and abilities, but I can't be in two places at one time.

Europe has much better family leave policies, but they also have higher taxes and lower salaries across the board.

aa915
aa915

That's all very well and good but I've known *many* women with children who passed on jobs because they were holding out for something that fit their kids' schedules better or that wouldn't keep them out of the house as much, or for one reason or another just didn't take as much of their time and/or energy away from their kids.  And if they had an employed partner at home, they had the luxury to do so, at least for a while.  Yes, dad should take more domestic responsibility, and yes, sometimes it's an unfair tradeoff, but sometimes it's a lifestyle choice, freely made.

lovingparentof2
lovingparentof2

Women, especially moms, definitely are discriminated against int his country. It's about time that this is being acknowledged. I suspect moms won't get any equality until men are in their shoes and experience the same discriminations. Only THEN will men (normally the rule makers) finally change the rules for the child care giver parent (mom or dad). But how sad that we don't treat our moms with respect until the same problems affect our dads? Just another example of the war on women, and specifically, of the war on moms. If moms are doing the "most important/hardest job in the world" (raising kids), why aren't they being rewarded/acknowledged in society and in the work force? 

I've read many reports and research that show that single moms are actually the BEST  employees. They are better multi-taskers, more dependable (since they are the only breadwinner in the family), more dedicated, less transition (won't quit on a whim), better problem solvers, can handle work stress better, etc. These are all qualities and traits that employers claim they look for. They're missing the boat by passing over moms. They should be RECRUITING moms.

Valery Simerman
Valery Simerman

My question is - how do employers know that a woman is a mother? I believe that asking the kids question is illegal. Am I wrong about that?

I am not a mother yet, but when I am and if I'm looking for a job I am not volunteering any personal information in an interview - it's not their business whether I am single or married with five kids, their business is whether I am qualified.

Capien
Capien

Why search for a complicated answer when a simple one fits better? People, men and women, generally do what is easier. It's culturally, socially, and economically more viable for a woman with kids to take a less demanding and thus likely less remunerated job than a man.

So it's less likely that evil managers are not hiring married women with children so much as married women with children find it easier to work less or less demanding jobs than married men with children.

The 'fix' is very similar to what was suggested, as it becomes socially and culturally normal for men to be children's caregivers then the legal and economic structure will follow leading eventually to it being no easier for a woman than a man to cut back on a career to take care of kids.

banjoonmyknee
banjoonmyknee

The stereotype being shown in the picture accompanying this article isn't going to help the situation.   

rjpal
rjpal

"The solution? Dash the stereotype that it’s mom who’s solely responsible for kids’ care and feeding. The proportion of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past decade, for example, though it’s still small at 3.4%.

“The more men engaged in caregiving and the more men who identify as primary caregivers, the more likely it will be that people won’t assume that women’s job performance will diminish because of her kids,” says Brad Harrington, executive director of the Center for Work amp; Family at Boston College. “People will realize it’s just as likely for men to make trade-offs and compromises. But that’s going to be a long time coming.”

==================

And who is going to be imposing this solution and take us into Brad Harrington's utopia?

Social engineers tend to assume that their fantasies as to the best possible world there is coincide with what is actually possible or desirable.

For the record, I myself helped in taking care of our children and am doing it to some extent even now though the younger one is now in her late 30's.  But if Brad Harrington had lectured to me, I might well have rebelled.

What these PC types have done is to read in the Declaration of Independence "All men are created equal" and derived the corollary that there are no significant differences between men and women except for a slight difference in appearance.  

And they have taken us from an America which worked fairly well to an America which is pretty dysfunctional.  And guess what, they want more of it!!

It is undeniable that the roles of men and woman have changed and many women like, ahem, Angela Merkel are doing a fine job of being leaders.  No problem there.

But it is when the social engineers want to "dash the stereotypes" that they do not like that I fear for our society.