The society functions under the impact of a diversity of factors that result in the inequality of its members. For example, the wage gap is one of such inequalities. Nevertheless, the wage gender gap, which is traditionally observed between male and female employees, has another aspect. Thus, there is an issue known as the “motherhood penalty,” which appears when a female employee with a child or children becomes less competitive on the labor market compared not only to male colleagues but females without children as well. This paper describes the importance of the concept of “motherhood penalty” for sociological theory, relates this issue to the feminist theory, and analyses the results of a laboratory experiment dedicated to motherhood penalty consequences for employment in comparison to those of fatherhood.
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Correll,1 Benard and Paik (2007) conduct a survey to reveal the existence of the wage penalty for mothers. The study attempts to check the impact of motherhood on the employment opportunities of a woman. The study is related to some sociological theories. First of all, it is connected to a feminist theory, which is one of the important directions in contemporary sociology. It is explicit throughout the article, mainly in the aspects where the meaning of motherhood and fatherhood are involved. Therefore, the work by Correll, Benard, and Paik (2007) can be included as the “sociological theory canon” due to a number of reasons.
The major factor for the importance of the mentioned study is its discriminative character. For instance, there is evidence that mothers on the whole and young mothers, in particular, have fewer chances for successful employment than their male rivals or females without children. Therefore, it is discrimination not only by gender but by the social position. Mothers are evaluated as employees that are less dedicated to their work and demonstrate less competence and commitment. Also, their competency rating is estimated to be 10% less than that of non-mothers (Correll, Benard, & Paik, 2007). Moreover, the starting salary of mothers is traditionally lower than that of non-mothers and fathers. The complex of these factors creates the concept of a motherhood penalty.
On the whole, the work is theoretical. It is supported by preliminary empirical findings from the earlier studies. These investigations provide evidence for status-based discrimination. Thus, another theory applicable to the case under discussion is that of status characteristics. This theory is also explicit throughout the study. Still, the facts of discriminative behavior towards women are not limited to the payment sphere. The mentioning of a child in the application form automatically decreases the chances of being employed because their competence is considered to be lower. Also, gender roles have a significant impact on the perception of mothers as employees. Thus, it is generally accepted that mothers are more concentrated on children. Therefore, their concentration on work and job commitment is expected to be lower than that of non-mothers or male employees.
Finally, the authors provide some empirical predictions that also comprise important sociological concepts. The first prediction is related to the so-called motherhood penalty. It means that mothers as applicants for a job will be evaluated as less competent and less committed, thus having fewer chances to be hired and promoted and will usually have lower starting salary compared to other equal female applicants who are not mothers (Correll, Benard, & Paik, 2007). Another sociological aspect that influences worker evaluations is the effect of fatherhood. Unlike that of motherhood, this one has a positive impact on the man’s employment and salary, similar to the “marriage premium,” which means that married men are considered to be more productive and thus are more desirable employees.
The discrepancies between motherhood and fatherhood employment maybe not as sharp as between men and women in general. Still, the concept of the motherhood penalty exists, and it is supported by a laboratory experiment, which comprised such factors as gender and parental status of applicants. The evaluation revealed that mothers’ evaluations of competence and commitment are lower than that of non-mothers, while the situation is opposite for fathers and non-fathers (Correll, Benard, & Paik, 2007). The same tendency is observed about salary and the likelihood of promotion.
Consequently, the concept of the motherhood penalty can become a basis for another feminist theory in sociology. Feminism is characterized by dynamic, reflexive, and diverse feminist theories (Mann, 2012). Thus, similarly to other aspects, that of motherhood and its consequences should not be undervalued in the context of feminism. Therefore, placing motherhood in the center of new feminist theory is likely to result in new knowledge that would contribute to the systematic interconnection of the motherhood penalty with other feminist theories and make it a significant component of the sociological theory canon.
Correll, S. J., Benard, S., & Paik, I. (2007). Getting a job: Is there a motherhood penalty? American Journal of Sociology, 112(5), 1297-1339.
Mann. S. A. (2012). Doing feminist theory: From modernity to postmodernity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Shelley Correll is a Professor of sociology and organizational behavior at Stanford University. She is in charge of Gender research and the Center for Women’s Leadership there. She investigates the concept of the “motherhood penalty” and provide research to assess the impact of motherhood on the workplace opportunities.