Could there be a reason moms are paid less? I've been thinking about the so-called motherhood penalty, which was the focus of a disturbing sociological study not long ago.Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?" by Shelley J. Correll, Stephen Benard and In Paik.
Using fake job applications, the researchers found that female candidates whose applications indicated they had children were not only less likely to be offered jobs, but, if they did get job offers, they were typically offered salaries of $11,000 a year less. Male applicants didn't suffer a parental bias.
Before you scroll down to the comments section to tear my head off, let's think this through. And please remember: I'm a working mom.
More mothers at workThe earning power of moms is a huge issue, affecting the financial health of millions of women and their families.
The percentage of women with kids who work has risen steadily for decades. It was up from 47% in 1975 to 71% in 2007, according to "Times Are Changing: Gender and Generation at Work and at Home" (.pdf file), a 2008 report by the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research organization in New York.
Rising employment rates sound like good news, but working moms understand that statistics gloss over a far more complex reality.
The myth of work-life balance"It is really hard when you're the only person who wants to pick up your child at 5 p.m. and everyone else is going to work until 8 p.m.," says Joanna Strober, who is a mother of three and the managing director of Sterling Stamos, an asset-management company in Menlo Park, Calif. She's a co-author of "Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All."
"It's a lot harder to feel to successful and feel like you're on a good career path," she says, "when many of your colleagues have spouses at home and taking time off or flexing your schedule for family reasons isn't seen as the norm."
As more women have entered the work force, the issue of so-called work-life balance has turned into a tug-of-war -- for families and for employers. Despite the buzz about flexible work policies, those who take advantage of flex time -- most often mothers -- suffer a stigma of being less reliable employees.
Some of the stereotypes:
- Mothers have divided loyalties. You can't count on a mom; her family comes first.
- Mothers leave work early. The women who pull through on deadlines don't have kids.
- A mother with one child is likely to have another and take time off, so why give her more responsibilities?
- Mothers are distracted. They're always juggling home and work; therefore, they're less productive.
I'd like to expose each of those gripes as the garbage they are, but is there a grain of truth in them?
Overworked: The second shiftMost women who work outside the home still bear more responsibility for doing the work within it: shopping, cooking, cleaning, list making, child rearing, bill paying.
I'm referring to the "second shift," which sociologist Arlie Hochschild explored in a groundbreaking book. I was astounded to realize that it's been 20 years since "The Second Shift" came out -- and depressed that, although we've made some progress in balancing the domestic load, we haven't made as much as you'd think.
Men did report taking more responsibility for cooking and child rearing in 2008 compared with 1992, according to the Families and Work Institute's National Study of the Changing Workforce, updated every four years. Time-use studies rely on self-reports, so they're not the most scientific. (Did he really do six hours of housework? Did she?)
But the percentage of men who said they were involved in cooking increased from 34% to 56% in that time. The percentage of men who reported doing child care increased from 41% to 49%. And although 13% more men claimed to be doing housework (up to 53%), 73% of women said they were doing most of the housework. So we are still far from equal.
My theory: The second shift is overworking moms, lending truth to the stereotypes.
But that's not it, says Correll, a professor of sociology at Stanford and the lead author of the motherhood-penalty study.
"There's no evidence," she wrote in an e-mail, that supports the idea that when women work more at home, they do less at work.
It's all perception, she says:
- In her study, Correll points out, "I created fictitious applicants who were highly productive and were judged that way until I added a small piece of evidence that they were a mom -- and all of a sudden they were seen as less competent, less committed to their jobs and deserving of lower salaries."
- Employers' judgments were based on the fact that the applicants were parents, not on their actual job performance or on how many sick days they had taken, or how often they had worked late or left early.