Master of Science
Working mothers experience discrimination in hiring, promotion, salary, and training opportunities. This “motherhood penalty” occurs, in part, due to stereotyped family role expectations: working mothers are often perceived as the primary caregivers in their families and are assumed to have additional domestic responsibilities compared to fathers or non-parents. Notably, when women are framed as breadwinners rather than caregivers, they do not experience a motherhood penalty. However, this line of research largely focuses on the experiences of White women and is lacking an intersectional approach. Using an experimental research design, I examined how candidate race and parenthood impacted breadwinner perceptions and promotion ratings. I hypothesized a moderated mediation model in which Black mothers would be more frequently perceived as breadwinners, mitigating the motherhood penalty they faced compared to White women. In line with previous research, motherhood status was negatively related to promotion recommendation. However, breadwinner perceptions did not explain this relationship and there was no effect of candidate race. Notably, my supplementary findings showed that mothers received lower anticipated job availability ratings compared to non-mothers, but only when they were White. These results suggest that women’s intersectional identities have important outcomes for their success in the workplace.
Summary for Lay Audience
Working mothers earn lower wages, are less likely to be hired and promoted, and are less likely to be recommended for valuable training opportunities compared to fathers or women without children. These outcomes are collectively described as the “motherhood penalty”. The motherhood penalty is partly influenced by family role expectations. Fathers are often stereotyped as the main financial providers in their households, implying that they are very committed to work. In contrast, working mothers are perceived as caregivers who are more committed to managing domestic responsibilities for their families. Notably, when women are framed as breadwinners rather than caregivers, they do not experience a motherhood penalty. However, research has mostly focused on the experiences of White women and has not addressed how motherhood expectations might differ based on race. In one study, mothers who engaged in paid labour outside of the home were perceived as less hardworking compared to stay-at-home mothers who did not work for pay – but only when they were White. The reverse was true for Black women, meaning that stay-at-home Black mothers were perceived as less hardworking compared to Black mothers who worked for pay outside of the home. Bringing together two different lines of research, I proposed that Black mothers may be more highly perceived as breadwinners compared to White women. I expected that this would alleviate the motherhood penalty for Black women. I tested my hypotheses in a controlled experimental study, in which participants evaluated a candidate for a promotion. Consistent with previous research, I found that mothers were less likely to be promoted compared to non-mothers. However, there was no effect of race on breadwinner perceptions. In addition, breadwinner perceptions did not explain the relationship between motherhood and promotion. I did find that race and motherhood impacted anticipated job availability ratings. Specifically, White mothers received lower availability ratings compared to White non-mothers, whereas Black mothers received equivalent ratings to Black non-mothers. Overall, better understanding the impact of our complex identities is important for understanding workplace outcomes for women.
Kumar, Shruti, "The Motherhood Penalty: Not so Black and White" (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7157.