CONTACT: MARY GERAGHTY KENYON
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0011; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: June 28, 2001
(Editors note: The results of this study as well as interviews with three
working mothers who were participants are documented in a 26-minute educational
video titled "The Family Friendly Workplace." Call 319-384-0011
to request a copy.)
UI study documents 'economic penalty for motherhood'
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- More than 26-million mothers in the American workforce
do not earn as much as equally qualified and experienced men or women without
children. An eight-year University of Iowa study of 300 working women with
children in the Midwest explains why the gender wage gap seems to be concentrated
on mothers. The study shows that mothers who avail themselves of family friendly
policies at work experience lower wage growth over time and that those who
work fewer than 30 hours a week experience the most serious wage penalties
Jennifer Glass, a UI sociology professor and lead investigator for this study,
said the results demonstrate that "for most employed women there is an
economic penalty for motherhood."
The study, which was a collaboration between Glass and Sarah Beth Estes of
the University of Cincinnati, tracked women who were employed at the time
they became pregnant, documenting their career progression over eight years.
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
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
"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
In that respect, employers who offer the so-called benefit of flexible scheduling
are at the same time punishing workers who take advantage of those policies.
"This is especially true for managers and professional workers in the
highest skill jobs," Glass said.
"What I think might be going on," she continued, "is that
when you ask for or you use flexible scheduling repeatedly for family obligations,
you might be drawing attention in some ways to the fact that you have family
obligations that are important to you. Perhaps subliminally this is a signal,
whether conscious or unconscious, that employers use to determine whether
someone is really committed, whether someone is really valuable."
Korilyn Hauersperger, one of the women in the study, said she met some hostility
at work when she asked to change her work hours after her fourth child was
born. "That's pretty much how I was treated is that, you know, if you
want to go part-time, you obviously don't care as much about your job as these
other people," she said. "You know, if you don't want to be here,
then you're not a good pharmacist anymore."
Despite the economic drawbacks, women who work for companies offering family
responsive policies are often better off in other ways than those whose employers
do not offer any flexibility, Glass said. "Having a supportive supervisor
makes women better workers and better parents and actually improves mothers'
mental health," she said. "Without any family friendly policies,
we find that family life is more difficult and children's well-being suffers."
Cynthia Bailey, another mother in the study, has resorted to using vacation
time to attend school functions for her two children because the bank where
she works as a teller does not offer flexible scheduling. "It was a Mother's
Day thing I took off for at the bank and I was so glad that I took off,"
she said. "I'm thinking, I didn't do a Mother's Day thing for the older
one, how must he have felt when all these mothers are there and I'm not there."
The study also found that employed mothers went to great lengths to make
up for hours away from their children, often sacrificing such basic needs
as sleep to spend all of their non-work time focused on their children --
a phenomenon sociologists refer to as "stealing from themselves."
Several mothers in the study, including Bailey, described staying up until
midnight or later to take care of household chores after the children were
in bed so as not to "waste" time with the children on such things
as house cleaning or laundry.
This study was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National