New Study Shows Working Mothers Are Still Penalized

Slowly but surely, work flexibility is becoming the norm in the workplace. More and more companies are offering flexible schedules to their employees. Still, a bias exists in the workplace that favors working fathers over working mothers, according to a new study.

In the a new study from Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, working fathers tend to be rewarded for their paternal status, and working mothers are penalized. This is ironic, since 71 percent of mothers with children at home work, and a whopping 40 percent are the primary breadwinner.

The study shows that working fathers’ earnings increase by more than 6 percent, while working mothers’ decreases 4 percent per child. In sharp contrast, unmarried (and childless) women earn 96 cents for every dollar that a man earns. This number drops to 76 cents for married moms.

So why is there a big wage gap between both sets of working adults? Well, the answer seems to lie in preconceived notions about parenthood. “Employers read fathers as more stable and committed to their work; they have a family to provide for, so they’re less likely to be flaky,” says Budig in the New York Times article “A Child Helps Your Career, If You’re a Man.” “This is the opposite of how parenthood by women is perceived by employers. The conventional story is they work less and they’re more distractible when on the job.”

Despite allowing for factors such as education, hours worked, and even experience, the study found that the wage gap still continued. The only exception is that women who were in the top 10 percent of earners didn’t experience a loss of income. In fact, those within the top 5 percent received bonuses that were comparable to men. Budig speculates that employers perceive these high-performing women in the same light as men, and therefore they don’t receive the same discrimination as lesser-earning working mothers.

In order for workplace flexibility to work for working parents of all income brackets, employers need to view each job candidate on an individual basis. There can no longer be any potential discrimination against qualified job applicants as to how they will perform if they are a working mother or father. By continuing this bias, employers are greatly decreasing the talent pool from which to choose new employees. They are depriving their organizations the opportunity to attract and subsequently maintain a strong workforce. Once employers view both working mothers and working fathers as equally qualified, the wage gap will finally close, allowing all workers to equally enjoy work flex without penalty, and ultimately bring out the best in both the companies and their employees.

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