In a classic discrimination experiment, sociology professors

Shelley Correll, Stephen Benard, and In Paik asked college students to rate a pair of job applicants after examining information packets that included résumés, personal fact sheets, and notes from screening interviews. After establishing that the application materials presented the candidates as equally qualified, the researchers altered them to indicate that one applicant was a parent. When being considered for the same job, mothers were significantly less likely to be recommended for hire, and when they were, they were offered $11,000 less in starting salary, on average, than childless women. Fathers were not penalized at all. The raters, displaying a clear form of status-based discrimination, revealed that they assumed the mothers to be inherently less competent and less committed.

Status bias could be overcome, Correll and Benard found in a similar follow-up experiment, if the raters were given copies of a performance review showing that a mother had demonstrated a heroic level of commitment to a previous job (by, say, describing her as “one of the most productive employees our division has hired in recent memory”). When that was the case, mothers were not seen as significantly less competent and committed. However, female raters (though, interestingly, not the male ones) judged the mothers to be less likable than the fathers and the childless women, and this normative discrimination produced the same result—fewer offers, less money.

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