Motherhood: A Potential Source of Bias in Employment Decisions

Madeline E. Heilman, Tyler G. Okimoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Results of 2 experimental studies in which job incumbents were said to be applying for promotions to traditionally male positions demonstrated bias against mothers in competence expectations and in screening recommendations. This bias occurred regardless of whether the research participants were students (Study 1) or working people (Study 2). Although anticipated job commitment, achievement striving, and dependability were rated as generally lower for parents than for nonparents, anticipated competence was uniquely low for mothers. Mediational analyses indicated that, as predicted, negativity in competence expectations, not anticipated job commitment or achievement striving, promoted the motherhood bias in screening recommendations; expected deficits in agentic behaviors, not in dependability, were found to fuel these competence expectations. These findings suggest that motherhood can indeed hinder the career advancement of women and that it is the heightened association with gender stereotypes that occurs when women are mothers that is the source of motherhood's potentially adverse consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-198
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • gender stereotypes
  • motherhood
  • motherhood bias
  • parenthood
  • promotion decisions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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