Hastings Law Journal


Women experience significant penalties in wages and other labor market outcomes when they have children. In this Article, we review and evaluate theory and research on cognitive bias and the motherhood penalty. Several theories predict that discrimination in the form of cognitive bias accounts for at least a part of the penalty that mothers experience. These theories include status characteristics theory, the stereotype content model, the shifting standards model, and the lack of fit model. Empirical evidence from controlled laboratory experiments and field studies strongly supports the general hypothesis that women experience labor market discrimination when they have children. There is also some evidence that the penalty may vary by a mother's race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Following a review of theory and evidence, we consider ways in which the penalty might be reduced, including increasing the availability of family-friendly workplace policies, the use of clearly specified hiring criteria, increasing accountability, and increasing the diversity of hiring committees. We conclude with a discussion of aspects of the motherhood penalty that require further research.

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