Married or Single Parent: Who Faces More Workplace Bias?

Mothers and fathers experience different biases at work, with mothers being penalized and fathers benefitting from their parenthood status

You're reading Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Workplace bias often results in discriminatory treatment or practices, negative office culture and lack of workforce diversity. If left unchecked, these biases can take a toll on the physical, mental and emotional well-being of employees. Now, a research by the University of Arizona in the US has shown that mothers and fathers experience different biases at work, with mothers being penalized and fathers benefitting from their parenthood status.


The research, presented at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, also suggests the biases may change depending on whether parents are married or single. The "motherhood penalty" and the "fatherhood premium" are well established in the sociological literature, it says.

Mothers Portrayed As Less Competent

In the US, the research says, mothers are subject to a net wage penalty of 5-7 per cent per child and are often perceived as less competent and committed. As a result, they are placed in "mommy-track" jobs, characterized by fewer opportunities for career advancement and financial security.

On the other hand, earlier research suggests that men reap benefits as a result of becoming fathers and might see a boost in pay, as well as an improvement in how they are perceived in the workplace.

The difference in treatment between moms and dads is at least partially explained, according to the study, by the enduring gender stereotypes that women are primary caregivers, whose attention is largely focused on their children, while men are breadwinners, whose focus is on financially supporting their families.

Motherhood Penalty Vs Fatherhood Premium

To find out what happens when there is only one parent in the picture, Jurgita Abromaviciute, a student of the University of Arizona, conducted an experimental study.

Most existing research on the motherhood penalty and fatherhood premium doesn't explicitly take into consideration parents' marital status. It's possible that people simply assume parents of young children have a spouse, Abromaviciute says in her study. She found that when parents are not married, the motherhood penalty and fatherhood premium seem to disappear.

"The penalty does not apply for single mothers the way it applies for married mothers. When a woman is known to be single and when she has children, then in addition to being a caregiver, she's also a breadwinner. So, in addition to caregiving, she now also has to provide for her family and she has no one to fall back on,” says Abromaviciute.

Her research also indicates that single mothers are not perceived as less competent or less committed than single childless women, and they are not less likely to be hired or promoted compared to their childless counterparts. In other words, while the motherhood penalty holds for married mothers, it disappears in the subsample of single mothers.

 “While single moms aren't penalized, they don't get the premium either, Abromaviciute says. Neither do single dads, it turns out. Single fathers, in addition to being breadwinners, are caregivers to their offspring. Likely, this triggers an assumption that they are more focused on their family than a married father might be, which eliminates the fatherhood premium,” adds Abromaviciute.

Nidhi Singh

Written By

A self confessed Bollywood Lover, Travel junkie and Food Evangelist.I like travelling and I believe it is very important to take ones mind off the daily monotony .