The Motherhood Penalty

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


In recent years it’s been fashionable for conservatives and libertarians to tout “research” showing that the gender wage gap—the observed difference in pay between men and women—is supposedly due to women not wanting to work nearly as much, perhaps because of family demands. To some extent, even if this research was accurate, it isn’t very satisfying: the question then becomes why women necessarily have to sacrifice their careers to raise a family. Why can’t the fathers pitch in too? Why can’t employers be more accommodating? Why don’t we have paid family leave? And so on and so forth. Nevertheless, perhaps the research isn’t accurate, and discrimination is in fact alive and well. A pair of sociologists at Cornell recently designed an experiment suggesting that, contrary to the libertarian line, employers may well actively discriminate against mothers:

[W]e conducted a laboratory experiment in which participants evaluated application materials for a pair of same race, same gender, ostensibly real job applicants who were equally qualified but differed on parental status. The results strongly support the discrimination hypotheses. Relative to other kinds of applicants, mothers were rated as less competent, less committed, less suitable for hire, promotion, and management training, and deserving of lower salaries. Mothers were also held to higher performance and punctuality standards. Men were not penalized for being a parent, and in fact, appeared to benefit from having children on some measures.

Add that to the research showing that pregnancy discrimination is very much alive and kicking. For more on the gender wage gap, Alas, a Blog ran a pretty comprehensive series on the subject awhile back that’s worth reading.

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you'll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate