Heterogeneity in the Motherhood Penalty – New Evidence from a Factorial Survey

Mareike Bünning , Berlin Social Science Center
Lena Hipp, Berlin Social Science Center
Ellen von den Driesch, WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Sociological and economic research has repeatedly shown that employer discrimination has contributed to the persistent disadvantages that women, particularly mothers, face on the labor market. Discrimination may occur for several reasons. For one, employers may regard mothers as less competent and less committed than men and childless women (status-based discrimination). Moreover, they may also discriminate on normative grounds because they believe that mothers ought to prioritize caregiving over paid work (normative discrimination). Yet, so far we know little about how these different types of discrimination vary across socio-demographic subgroups. Our study therefore investigates variations in the motherhood penalty in hiring decisions by conducting a factorial survey experiment with HR managers in Germany. We ask HR managers to evaluate fictitious female applicants – who vary by age, occupation, parental status, number and age of children – in terms of expected commitment, competence and likeability and ultimately ask for their hiring recommendations. This approach allows us to disentangle how each of the experimental dimensions influences HR managers’ evaluations of potential applicants. We expect higher motherhood penalties among applicants with more and younger children and in male-dominated occupations and variations with with regard to occupational status.

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 Presented in Session 37. Gender Perspectives. Session dedicated to the memory of Antonella Pinnelli