Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May delivers a keynote speech at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, England. Photo: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Although choosing to have kids is a personal choice, it is one that will inevitably be judged. Whether you’re a parent or not, expect to face problems in the office.
A study published in the journal Sex Roles this month found that “relative to targets who had chosen to have two children, voluntarily childfree women and men were penalized by perceivers in the present research. Specifically, they were perceived as leading less fulfilling lives than do people who had chosen to have children.”
But things escalated from there.
“Moreover, their decision to forgo parenthood, arguably individuals’ most personal choice, evoked moral outrage—anger, disgust, and disapproval,” the study said.
A caveat: the study isn’t a sweeping one. It featured data from 197 students “at a large U.S. Midwestern university,” and most were women. Participants were “randomly assigned to evaluate a male or female married target who had chosen to have zero or two children. Participants completed measures of the target’s perceived psychological fulfillment and their affective reactions to the target,” the study said.
While the sample size was relatively small and participants looked down upon both women and men, this is part of an ongoing discussion about what happens if female employees have kids— but also how they’re perceived if they don’t.
There’s a long history of a penalty for childlessness, at least in the perception of colleagues. Parents may look down on childless coworkers as people who have fewer responsibilities or be wary of them as people with endless ambition. In response, at least one woman without children fought back with a very public request for “me-ternity leave” — which gestures at the rift, but doesn’t account for the fact that actual maternity leave is designed as a medical concern, and not a social one.
Childlessness shaming in politics
Even UK Prime Minister Theresa May has been shamed for not having kids.
The Times reported that during the election to be prime minister, candidate Andrea Leadsom said that since she is a mother, she has a “‘a very real stake’ in the future of Britain” and that May “possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.”
The week beforehand, May had spoken about not being able to have kids with her husband, Philip, even though they had wanted to, according to The Guardian.
But Leadsom backpedaled and apologized after being criticized for her comments.
The Telegraph reported that Leadsom said, “I was pressed to say how my children had formed my views. I didn’t want it to be used as an issue. Having children has no bearing on the ability to be PM. I deeply regret that anyone has got the impression that I think otherwise.”
But she still came under fire for her comments after using May’s childlessness as a reason for an attack.
Motherhood versus fatherhood
Although working women are stigmatized for being child-free, working mothers also deal with a variety of challenges.
A report by Professor Michelle J. Budig of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst for think tank Third Way said that “…there is a wage penalty for motherhood of 4% per child that cannot be explained by human capital, family structure, family-friendly job characteristics, or differences among women that are stable over time. Second, this motherhood penalty is larger among low-wage workers while the top 10% of female workers incur no motherhood wage penalty,” the report said.
Even though many mothers are in the same boat, there is rivalry among those in the group.
TODAY put together list of moms’ comments on why the judgement is wrong.
But becoming a father does not hurt all men’s wallets.
The report also said, “…all else equal, fatherhood increases men’s earnings by over 6%” (for fathers who live with their child).
This points to a double standard.
What’s the solution to all this? Maybe it’s this: whether you have kids or not, you shouldn’t be judged for your marital or parental status at work.