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Laws, Norms, and the Motherhood/Caretaker Penalty

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Principal Investigator(s):

Shelley Correll
Stanford University
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Traci Tucker
Stanford University

Catherine R. Albiston
University of California, Berkeley
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Field period: 11/27/2011-03/14/2012


A growing body of research finds that mothers and other caretakers experience disadvantages in the workplace, including lower evaluations and decreased organizational rewards. Our study attempts to uncover the social psychological mechanisms producing these disadvantages.

We develop an argument demonstrating how "family friendly" laws that prohibit discrimination against workers who take family leave can mitigate these biases. Drawing on theories from legal scholars, we contend that law affects society not only through punitive sanctions, but also by changing normative judgments. If law can change moral judgments, then "family friendly" laws should reduce the negative perceptions of caretakers along with the wage and promotion penalties they experience.
In an experimental evaluation of these predictions, participants evaluated 2 same-gender employees: EITHER a childless employee OR a parent, AND an employee who took family leave. All worked for the same firm, which, depending upon condition, was described as either: being covered by a legal mandate (the FMLA) or having no policy, legal or otherwise.


We predicted that

1) Mothers (who took leave or not) and mother's and father's who took family leave would be penalized relative to equivalently qualified childless individuals and relative to fathers who did not take leave when no family law was in place.

2) However, when a family friendly law was made salient, these biases would be reduced or eliminated.

Experimental Manipulations:

Within subjects, depending upon condition, either:

Childless person vs. parent who took leave


Parent who did not take leave vs. parent who took

Between subjects:

gender of employees (male /female)
family friendly law (yes / no)

Key Dependent Variables:

For each employee:

1. variables measuring the following traits: capable, skilled, warm, intimidating, arrogant, committed

2. Likelihood of promotion

3. Recommended raise

Then a forced choice: Which of the employees would you recommend for promotion?

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