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University Relations

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Jan. 31, 2005
Contact: Dan Lara, University Relations, (785) 864-8855, or Roger Martin, KU Center for Research, (785) 864-7239.

KU research shows mothers 17 percent less likely to be hired than fathers

LAWRENCE -- Mothers interviewing for a job might be better off hiding that fact, according to recent University of Kansas research.

But men who are fathers may gain a slight advantage from playing the fatherhood card. That's because the standards that fathers have to meet to be hired may be lower, the research said.

" Mothers are particularly disadvantaged in terms of hiring and the likelihood of promotion," said Monica Biernat, KU professor of psychology. "Fatherhood doesn't particularly harm a man -- and it might be a plus."

The study also showed that parents in general are viewed as less committed to their employment than nonparents, Biernat said.

The research was published in the Journal of Social Issues. Kathleen Fuegen, assistant professor of psychology at the Ohio State University in Columbus, and Biernat, Fuegen's dissertation adviser, were the primary authors of the study.

The research was based on a hypothetical hiring situation. The study subjects, 108 undergraduates from a Midwestern university and 88 from an Eastern university, were told they would evaluate someone applying for an entry-level position as an immigration law attorney.

Everyone reviewed the same resume. But half got a resume with a male name at the top, half with a female name. In addition, half the resumes identified the applicant as single and childless, the other half as married with two children.

The applicants were to be judged on their competence, perceived commitment to the job and availability to do it. The undergraduates were asked whether they would hire the applicant and whether the applicant would make a good candidate for promotion.

The woman presented as a mother was about 17 percent less likely to be hired than any of the other three kinds of candidates, Biernat said.

The mothers also trailed the other groups by about the same percentage in their perceived desirability for future promotion.

"Participants who are parents and who have workplace experience may possess fewer negative stereotypes of employed mothers than undergraduates do," Biernat said, "and expanding the research to include older, employed subjects is important."

Why would fathers get a pass when mothers don't?

"Everybody expects fathers to work," Biernat said, "but it's more mixed with mothers."

Besides that, it used to be that being a "good family man" was a plus for a job applicant, Biernat said -- and that may still be the case.

"Fatherhood might be a mark that this is a good guy," she said, "and, therefore, he doesn't have to work so hard to prove his worth before he's hired."

Women, on the other hand, suffer damage as prospective employees by being associated with their children.

"[Mothers] are expected to provide more physical and emotional care than fathers," the article said. "Perhaps because of this expectation, mothers who violate gender roles by being employed full time are perceived as less nurturing and less professionally competent than full-time employed fathers."

In addition to Biernat and Fuegen, Elizabeth Haines, assistant professor of psychology at William Patterson University in Wayne, N.J., and Kay Deaux, distinguished professor of psychology and women's studies at the City University of New York Graduate Center, contributed research to the article.

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The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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