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UC-UI Study Documents
'Economic Penalty' for Motherhood

Date: Aug. 13, 2001
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
and Mary Geraghty Kenyon
Phone: Marianne (513) 556-1826
Phone: Mary (319) 384-0011
Archive: Research News

More than 26 million mothers in the American workforce earn less than equally qualified and experienced workers without children. Now an eight-year study by University of Cincinnati and University of Iowa sociologists offers one explanation for this motherhood wage gap.

The study, by UI professor of sociology Jennifer Glass and UC sociologist Sarah Beth Estes, focuses on 300 working women with children in the Midwest. It shows that mothers who avail themselves of some family-friendly policies at work experience lower wage growth over time.

Estes said that most previous studies on "family-friendly" work policies have focused on the benefits of such policies to employers and employee productivity. The new study, however, focuses on the impact of these policies on employees. And unfortunately, the impact can be a negative one economically, at least for moms.

That is not to say that family-friendly policies do not have a non-financial payoff, said Estes. "Some have a positive impact on family life. Mothers who use flextime are more able to engage in child-centered community activities like attending sporting events and volunteering in their children's schools. Mothers who work some of their regular hours at home are better able to enact positive parenting styles, especially in the form of warm mother/child interactions."

She would like to see employers address the negative consequences. "We'd like to see these family-friendly policies made available to benefit family life, without carrying an economic penalty," Estes said. "All employees deserve to have a life outside of work, and research shows that when organizations recognize employees' family lives, employees are better workers."

The study tracked women who were employed at the time they became pregnant, documenting their careers over seven years (1992-1998). About 65 percent of the group worked continuously throughout the study, only taking time off immediately following the birth of their child. Another 20 percent took more time off or quit their jobs, but went back to work or got a new job within the study's timeframe. Fewer than 15 percent left the workforce entirely.

The women in the study who used such family-friendly policies as flexible scheduling, telecommuting and part-time employment did not receive pay increases in proportion to the raises of their peers who avoided these policies. Glass emphasized that the study compared wages on a per-hour basis, meaning that the overall salary differences could not be attributed to the number of hours worked.

"A woman may be working more than 40 hours a week, but if some of that work is done at home or in the evening, there is a perception that she isn't working as hard as her colleague who is in the office during the regularly scheduled work day," Glass said.

Those who have the most "face time" in the office, especially those who are seen working overtime, are rewarded with larger raises over time than those who complete some of their work outside traditional working hours, she said.

This study was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

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