Are you being mommified?

Columnist Ellen Goodman riffs on one of the biggest challenges facing working mothers: "Mommification."

Published May 15, 2007 8:10PM (EDT)

Apparently motherhood is increasingly well paid: According to a column in the Contra Costa Times, estimates that the value of a mother who's taking care of her kids on top of her day job is $85,939. And stay-at-home moms are really raking in the dough: They're valued at $138,095, up 3 percent from last year.

Too bad, of course, that those salaries are being paid entirely in hypothetical dollars. But as columnist Ellen Goodman points out, that's not the real problem, which is that American women not only are uncompensated for their work as mothers but are often penalized for it.

Goodman calls this problem "mommification" and says that working mothers "are still treated as if they were a third gender in the workplace." (She points out that among people ages 27 to 33 who have never had children, "women's earnings approach 98 percent of men's" -- but that statistic drastically changes once they've had kids.) To back up her assertion, she references a fascinating study by Shelley Correll published in the American Journal of Sociology.

The basic idea is this: Correll wanted to see if there was a motherhood penalty in the job market. So she and her Cornell University colleagues created a résumé for an ideal job applicant. This imaginary woman had a successful track record, an uninterrupted work history and a great curriculum vitae.

But for other résumés, Correll and her colleagues added a little something extra: They described the woman as an officer in a Parent-Teacher Association.

I mean, that's a good thing, right? Wouldn't PTA involvement be the mark of someone who was committed, responsible and involved -- qualities that would probably translate well from personal to professional life?

Apparently not. According to Goodman, the "mothers" in the study were seen as less competent and committed, were half as likely to be hired as childless women or men with or without children, and were offered $11,000 less in starting pay than their childless peers. (Goodman points out that they were also judged more harshly for tardiness.)

Said Correll, "Just the mention of the PTA had that effect ... Imagine the effect of a two-year absence from the workforce or part-time work."

Frankly, I don't want to. It strikes me as crazy that an allusion to motherhood would have such a deep impact on the way a woman was professionally treated. After all, Correll was comparing these mothers not only with childless women but with fathers. That means the discrimination is not just based on parenthood but on the gender of the parent. Despite all our talk of equality in child raising, men are still thought of as putting their jobs above their families, while women are assumed to shirk professional responsibilities for the sake of their kids. That's unfair both to family-focused fathers and to working mothers, who, as Goodman puts it, are still being "mommified."

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

MORE FROM Catherine Price

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Love And Sex