Study Finds the Wage Penalty for Working Mothers Evaporates for Single Mothers

Previous research has shown that in the United States, working mothers are subject to a net wage penalty of 5 to 7 percent per child and they are often perceived as less competent and less committed to their work. Working fathers, however, tend to receive a wage premium.

A new study from the University of Arizona examined what happens when there is only one working parent. The study found that single mothers are not penalized at work in the same way that occurs for married mothers. In addition, single working fathers do not show a similar wage benefit that married fathers do. The motherhood penalty and fatherhood premium seemed to disappear when there is only one parent.

These findings align with the gender stereotypes of women as caregivers and men as breadwinners. A single mother is known to be both the caregiver and breadwinner for her family, which eliminates the penalty that occurs to married women who are only perceived as caregivers. However, a single father is known to be both a breadwinner and a caregiver, and therefore more focused on family than work compared to a married man who is perceived only as a breadwinner.

The study was led by Jurgita Abromaviciute, a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of Arizona. She asked a large group of college students to evaluate job application materials including a resume and human resources interview notes from fictitious job applicants with comparable experience applying for an upper level management position with a communications company. The students were made aware of gender, marital status, and parental stats of each applicant. After reviewing each candidate, they answered a series of questions about the applicants, their qualifications etc.

Abromaviciute plans to conduct additional research to replicate her results with a broader demographic of study participants. She also wants to examine how results might vary among different industries and professional levels.

Abromaviciute holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in sociology from Vilnius University in Lithuania and amaster’s degree in sociology from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.

Filed Under: Gender GapResearch/Study


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