Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty?

Stephen Benard
In Paik
American Journal of Sociology
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Survey research finds that mothers suffer a substantial wage penalty, although the causal mechanism producing it remains elusive. The authors employed a laboratory experiment to evaluate the hypothesis that status‐based discrimination plays an important role and an audit study of actual employers to assess its real‐world implications. In both studies, participants evaluated application materials for a pair of same‐gender equally qualified job candidates who differed on parental status. The laboratory experiment found that mothers were penalized on a host of measures, including perceived competence and recommended starting salary. Men were not penalized for, and sometimes benefited from, being a parent. The audit study showed that actual employers discriminate against mothers, but not against fathers.