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Examples of the Ways in Which Men Are Rewarded for Being Fathers and Women Are Punished for Being Mothers in the Workplace

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One of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children

Mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications.

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For working parents in the U.S., the challenge of juggling careers and family life continues to be a front-burner issue – one that is being recognized by a growing number of employers who have adopted family-friendly policies such as paid leave. But while few Americans want to see a return to traditional roles of women at home and men in the workplace, one reality persists: Women most often are the ones who adjust their schedules and make compromises when the needs of children and other family members collide with work, Pew Research Center data show. In a 2013 survey, we found that mothers were much more likely than fathers to report experiencing significant career interruptions in order to attend to their families’ needs

Part of this is due to the fact that gender roles are lagging behind labor force trends. While women represent nearly half of the U.S. workforce, they still devote more time than men on average to housework and child care and fewer hours to paid work, although the gap has narrowed significantly over time. Among working parents of children younger than 18, mothers in 2013 spent an average of 14.2 hours per week on housework, compared with fathers’ 8.6 hours.

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The working mother has to keep the convincing stance that she is working not just for her own sustenance, but also for the betterment of the family. Something like, “a working woman who put herself out for the kid's sake” (Wilson, 2006). Working women changed the image of a good mother from one who stayed at home to one who also took on extra burden for her family's benefit. This would however not recognize the working mother as an important member of the workforce and an important worker in her own right! It is possible for a working mother to defend her right to work in a number of ways. A less affluent member of society would simply say it brings in much needed extra money. A woman from a better class of living would say she has more money to spare and is utilizing her talents and skills to the best effect. In either case, the most important aspect is that it shouldn‘t affect the health and well being of their children in any way. In any case, “having to work” takes away much of the problems a working mother has to face (Wilson, 2006). Most of these summarize succinctly the needs of a mother who is working. Working mothers’ needs are to be served in the interest of preserving the family unit as a healthy foundation for society. Caring for a child has the fundamental value of a serious health condition and has been valued as such, deserving that the parent be allowed to take time off for caring for the child. This means that caring for a child is an essential duty that the parent has to perform and that cannot be substituted for in any other way. This is especially true in cases where the child is one with special needs (Thyen et al., 1999; Yantzi et al., 2007).

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As shown above, the motherhood wage penalty and fatherhood bonus are not unique to American workers, but are found among a number of westernized countries

Notably, these parenthood effects vary across countries ranging from very large effects in gender conservative countries such as Austria and Germany, to very small effects in social democratic countries, such as Sweden. In considering the role of nationalized work-family policies and the motherhood penalty, our research indicates that publicly funded childcare, particularly for children aged 0 to 2 years, is associated with smaller penalties, while extended parental leaves (up to 3 years in Germany), are associated with larger wage penalties for mothers. Clearly, public policy related to work-family issues can impact earnings disparities for parenthood. What these policies may entail in the American context is an important debate American policymakers must address.

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Wilson D. S. A New Look at the Affluent Worker: The Good Working Mother in Post-War Britain;Twentieth Century British History. 2006 17:206–299. Available at: .

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Public Law 103-3 Enacted February 5, 1993. [Accessed on 31 March 2008]. Available at: .

Thyen U., Kuhlthau K., Perrin J.M. Employment, child care, and mental health of mothers caring for children assisted by technology. Pediatrics. 1999

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