Sunday, March 12, 2006

Parents vs. Employers


From an article in the Denver Post:
A landmark study by Cornell University has quantified what many working mothers have suspected for years: Women with children are less likely to get hired and are paid less in starting salaries than similarly qualified fathers or women without children. This disparity often follows them throughout their careers...

[At the start of the study, the researcher] created two fictitious applicants seeking a job as a marketing director for a communications company. Both had virtually identical qualifications and resumes with no indication of gender or family status. The applications were presented to 60 undergraduates - both men and women - for evaluation. The reviewers found the applicants to be equal and said they had no hiring preference.

Correll used undergraduates because she believed them to be most closely attuned to the current hiring climate. She also assumed they had been raised in an age when sensibilities about working mothers had changed.

Next, the same resumes were shown to another set of undergraduate evaluators. This time, though, the applicants were both women.

A memo was slipped into one of the application packets mentioning she was a mother of two. Her resume was changed slightly to include a reference to being an officer of a parent-teacher association.

The outcome changed dramatically. The evaluators said they would hire the childless women 84 percent of the time. The mothers were given a job only 47 percent of the time.

The mothers also were offered a starting salary of $11,000 less than their counterparts without children.

The author of the study, Shelley Correll, then "created 300 pairs of cover letters and resumes to apply for advertised midlevel marketing positions. One 'applicant' said in her cover letter she was relocating with her family. The resume mentioned the parent-teacher board position. The other cover letter said the 'applicant' was relocating but made no mention of a family. Early results of this study show the applicant who did not mention a family was called in for an interview twice as frequently as the mother." Later in the article, an HR executive "speculates the tightening job market is giving potential employers a sense they have the upper hand and are more free in their questioning than they would have been a few years ago. She also wonders if there is a backlash brewing against mothers - and increasingly, fathers - who have demanded more flexibility from companies to be with their families."

We already knew this, of course. I wonder: what if someone applied the same test to male applicants? If anybody knows of such a study, let me know.

I have no comment, really, beyond the obvious call for revolution.

7 comments:

Lara Hendrix said...

I read this article in the paper here, actually. I work at a great nonprofit that is wonderful for women who are pregnant or parents who have children. I wonder sometimes if it's because this organization is primarily run by women (National MS Society). And then I wonder, does that mean if I don't have kids, will I have a better chance of "climbing the ladder" and at what price is that? Just thoughts.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Well, statistically, the answer is "yes" -- as a woman, your career is much better off if you don't have kids. Even as a guy, I can tell you that having a kid definitely hurt my career -- I guess I could have embraced being a regular professional dad who leaves in the morning and works 12 hours on his wife's birthday while she's trapped in the apartment with a sick baby during a day-long rainstorm (truth! really happened! i suck!). But I pretty much decided that I wasn't that kind of dad, and that I would have to accept the personal and professional changes having a kid unleashed. It's just a matter of shifting priorities.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Well, statistically, the answer is "yes" -- as a woman, your career is much better off if you don't have kids. Even as a guy, I can tell you that having a kid definitely hurt my career -- I guess I could have embraced being a regular professional dad who leaves in the morning and works 12 hours on his wife's birthday while she's trapped in the apartment with a sick baby during a day-long rainstorm (truth! really happened! i suck!). But I pretty much decided that I wasn't that kind of dad, and that I would have to accept the personal and professional changes having a kid unleashed. It's just a matter of shifting priorities.

Anonymous said...

And for the job-hunting parent, the lesson is obvious. Unitl the revolution, take all references to having children off your resume and cover letter.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Yes, that is the obvious lesson. The implications make me sad.

You know, Lara (is you're still in on this dialogue), lots of parents, moms and dads, have no problem having kids and having careers. They hire nannies, they hire maids, they make it work and they still have most evenings and most weekends with kids. Even lots of working people who can't afford help make it work -- in those cases, help from family is essential. If you do decide to have kids, you're work towards what's best for you, whatever your circumstances.

lara hendrix said...

I think what I meant by that last comment was, considering the fact that Tom and I probably aren't going to have kids, it's bizarre to me that I would have a better chance of moving up here than perfectly qualified (if not more) peers who might happen to have children. The price companies (or nonprofits, for that matter) pay for overlooking people who might be considered "unreliable" is their own loss. I didn't need any answers, it's just frustrating to me--from every aspect. Which you, and everybody else, already knows.

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Right. I guess I took your comment too far.

This is probably a good time to note the tension between the Longman article on "The Return to Patriachy" -- which argues that male domination is good for economic growth and imperial expansion -- and the NYT article on the stalled movement of women into the workforce -- which argues that working women have driven economic growth. Capitalism wants it both ways! Maybe the solution is for women to both work and raise children, while men sit around eating grapes and giving each other full-body massages? Sort of like ancient Greece, but with TiVo.