Mothers May Face a Higher Level of Job Discrimination Than Other Women

A new study by Patrick Ishizuka, assistant professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, finds that inflexible schedules and biased hiring practices, combined with gendered cultural norms around breadwinning and caregiving, lead to discrimination against mothers and perpetuate existing gender inequalities in the workplace.

Dr. Ishizuka conducted a field experiment in which he submitted 2,210 fictitious applications to low-wage and professional/managerial jobs in six U.S. cities. For each position, he submitted two similarly qualified applications. The only difference was that one application included signals of motherhood, such as Parent Teacher Association volunteer work, while the other application — also for a female candidate — listed volunteer work in an organization that was unrelated to parenthood.

Across occupations, callback rates were significantly lower for mothers than for childless women. In low-wage service jobs, 26.7 percent of the childless women received a callback compared to mothers’ 21.5 percent. Similarly, 22.6 percent of the childless female applicants received callbacks for professional and managerial positions, compared to 18.4 percent for mothers.

According to Ishizuka, discrimination against mothers likely results from conflict between the perceived time commitments necessary to be a “good mother” and an ideal worker. Whereas many professional and managerial workers are expected to work all the time, low-wage service workers are increasingly expected to work at any time.

“Mothers have disproportionately shouldered the burden of caregiving during the pandemic,” Dr. Ishizuka said. “As a result, they also have been more likely to drop out of the labor force, reduce their work hours or utilize family leave provisions made possible through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. And for parents who have been able to work remotely, their parental status has been more salient than ever before with kids showing up on Zoom or being heard in the background. My concern is that instead of creating policies to support families, employers will be more likely to discriminate against mothers because they will view them as less committed to their jobs.”

The full study, “The Motherhood Penalty in Context: Assessing Discrimination in a Polarized Labor Market,” was published in the journal Demography. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: DiscriminationResearch/Study


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