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David Baxter PhD

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Working Moms May Be Held to Higher Standards
Friday, January 07, 2005
By Jennifer Warner

Getting Hired and Promoted Could Be Harder for Women With Children

A woman with children at home may have a harder time getting a new job than a father or a woman with similar qualifications without children, according to a new study that highlights gender stereotypes in the workplace.

Researchers found potential employers tend to hold mothers to a higher standard and demand better qualifications than they require of fathers or women without children.

"People are setting higher standards for mothers than for fathers because they expect that mothers will be less committed to their jobs and will need more time off to take care of their children," says researcher Kathleen Fuegen, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University's Lima campus, in a news release.

The study also shows that working mothers are viewed less favorably when it came to promotion for similar reasons.

"Even though gender stereotypes are not as overt as they were 20 to 50 years ago, there are still ways in which they are manifested -- and evaluations of mothers at work are one good example," says Fuegen.

Employers Demand More From Working Mothers
In the study, which appears in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Social Issues, researchers had two groups of college students evaluate potential job applicants for an entry-level position as an immigration attorney.

All of the participants reviewed the same resume, except that half of the resumes had a male name (Kenneth Anderson) and the other half had a female name (Katherine Anderson). In addition, half of the resumes identified the job candidate as single without children, and the other half showed the applicant was married with two young children.

The students evaluated the applicant on a variety of measures, such as competence, perceived commitment to the job, and job availability. Researchers also asked the participants to rate whether they would hire the applicant or consider him or her for a promotion.

The study showed that the college students said they would be less likely to hire a woman with two children than a woman with identical qualifications and no children. In addition, the mother was considered a lesser candidate for promotion than the childless woman.

"When the applicant was male, parental status made no difference in promotion rates. However, when the applicant was female, she was significantly less likely to be promoted when a parent than if she was not a parent," says Fuegen.

Researchers also found that parents, in general, were judged as less committed to their jobs and less available at work compared with those without children.

But researchers say they were surprised to find that the students actually set lower hiring standards for fathers than they did for childless men, which suggests that gender stereotypes may still exist in the workplace.

"Sometimes gender stereotypes are manifested in very subtle ways," says Fuegen. "Even today, mothers are still expected to be caregivers first and fathers are still seen as the main breadwinners and this affects how mothers and fathers are viewed in the workplace."

SOURCES: Fuegen, K. Journal of Social Issues, December 2004; vol 60: pp 737-754. News release, Ohio State University.
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