Workplace Culture

Moms with straight As in high school get similar leadership opportunities as dads who got failing grades

Meghan McCarty Carino Feb 10, 2021
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During the pandemic, many mothers have been forced to cut back on their hours or leave jobs to care for kids, often because they make less than a male partner. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Workplace Culture

Moms with straight As in high school get similar leadership opportunities as dads who got failing grades

Meghan McCarty Carino Feb 10, 2021
Heard on:
During the pandemic, many mothers have been forced to cut back on their hours or leave jobs to care for kids, often because they make less than a male partner. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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One of the defining characteristics of the economic devastation wrought by this pandemic is how unevenly it’s been distributed.

Low-wage service workers, often people of color, have been hit much harder than white-collar workers who can do their jobs at home. And women have been affected more drastically than men, prompting some to call this a “she-cession.”

That all makes recent research on workplace gender gaps all the more disturbing. A new study provides more evidence that mothers are particularly penalized in the workplace.

Chart showing difference in career trajectory for men and women, with and without children
Chart showing difference in career trajectory for men and women, with and without children.

Researchers Yue Qian and Jill E. Yavorsky used data from a federal study of thousands of baby boomers surveyed over more than four decades “specifically looking at the number of people that they later managed during their early to mid-careers,” Yavorsky said.

Yavorsky, a sociologist at University of North Carolina, Charlotte, said their study found that those with higher GPAs in high school ended up supervising more employees later in their careers. Men managed on average two or three more people than women. But when she looked at parents, the gender gap was much wider.

“Among those who earned a 4.0 GPA, fathers manage nearly five times the number of people that mothers do,” Yavorsky said.

Chart comparing higher career trajectory of fathers to lower career trajectory of mothers
Chart comparing higher career trajectory of fathers to lower career trajectory of mothers from UNC Charlotte study

In fact, mothers who earned straight As ended up with the same leadership opportunities as fathers who received failing grades in high school. And the gap persisted even when correcting the number of hours worked or years in the workforce.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, who directs the nonprofit group MomsRising, said the findings are sad, but she does not find them surprising.

“We hear stories all the time about the motherhood penalty.” She added that they’ve found “people [women] who have equal resumes, equal job experiences, making significantly less than their male counterparts.”

A growing body of research suggests it’s not just the unequal sharing of parenting duties that hurts moms’ careers, but cultural biases that lead to dramatic hiring and pay disparities.

“We think of men as being all the more capable and competent on the job once they become fathers in the U.S., where women are considered categorically less capable and committed on the job once they become mothers,” said Caitlyn Collins, a sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

During the pandemic, many mothers have been forced to cut back on their hours or leave jobs to care for kids, often because they make less than a male partner, perpetuating a vicious cycle that reinforces those stereotypes.

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