It is time to quit viewing motherhood as incompatible with employment.

In 2013, hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones set off a controversy when he remarked that “you will never see as many great women investors or traders as men.” In his experience, Jones claimed, a woman did fine until she had a child. But “as soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s (sic) bosom, forget it….”

By virtually every measure, we are closer to gender equality today than we were fifty years ago—with one very big exception. As Joya Misra notes, the majority of the gender gap in wages is now the result of the lower earnings of mothers. This once led Denise Venable of the National Center for Policy Analysis to claim: “When women behave as men do [by not having children], the wage gap between them is small.” But mothers not only earn less than childless women. They earn less than fathers. When women “behave as men do” and have children, the wage gap between fathers and mothers remains large.

Why is this? When we compare the earnings of mothers and childless women who work in the same types of jobs, have the same level of education, have the same amount of experience and are equal on a host of other dimensions, mothers still earn five percent lower hourly wages per child. Mothers do work fewer hours per week, on average, than other types of workers. However, working fewer hours does not explain why mothers earn lower wages per hour whether they are working full or part time.

Comments such as Jones’ are the cause, not the objective description, of why mothers have less success in the workplace. Research demonstrates that many employers share Jones’ belief that mothers are less committed to their jobs, so they are less willing to hire mothers into good jobs or to offer them high salaries.

In one study, fake resumes were sent to employers who advertised a high status job opening. When the resume indicated that the applicant was an officer in an elementary school parent teacher association, thereby implying that she was a mother, employers were half as likely to call her back. A second study found out why. Compared with a childless woman with the same qualifications, the mother was rated as less committed to her job, despite the absence of any evidence supporting this perception, and this substantially reduced her chances of getting the job.

Image by Frank de Kleine via Flickr CC
Image by Frank de Kleine via Flickr CC

It is time to quit viewing motherhood as incompatible with employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 71 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 are in the labor force today, up from 30 percent in 1960. Even with limited social support to help workers balance work and family, mothers are making important contributions at work, bringing home an increasing share of income for their families and helping make our nation be more productive. They deserve fair pay for their contributions.


This piece was part of the CCF Equal Pay Act 50th Anniversary Symposium, June 2013.

Shelley J. Correll is a Professor of Sociology and Director at Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University. Her recent research has focused on the idea of the “motherhood penalty”, which has led her to current project on “redesigning work” where she seeks to identify how workplace structures may be adjusted to better cater to the current workforce.