maternity leave
A new study reveals that people don't respect the plight of working mother. Photo: ISTOCK

We already know that women get screwed when it comes to maternity leave, which, at least in the United States, is neither adequate in duration nor compensation. And now, according to a new study, we’ve learned they’re also judged harshly by their peers, whether they decide to take leave or keep working. Women can’t win. Or, as lead author Dr. Thekla Morgenroth puts it, they’re "damned" either way. 

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, surveyed 137 women and 157 men throughout the US and the UK. The participants were divided into three groups, each given different information about a fictional woman. One group was told she had taken maternity leave, the other, that she kept working, and in a control group, the information was omitted. They were then asked to evaluate her “as a worker and a parent.”  

The result? An overwhelmingly negative response. In the one group, the majority of participants panned the woman for working, alleging that she was inadequate as a parent; and in the other, most criticized her for taking maternity leave, arguing that she was less competent as a worker. 

"These effects occurred regardless of the respondent's gender, age, parental status or nationality, which suggests these attitudes are universal and pervasive in our culture," said Morgenroth.


But something else might explain the negative response. The average age of the respondents was 33.32 years; 70 percent worked full-time, and 71 percent didn’t have children. 

Might that have something to do with their lack of empathy? Based on anecdotal evidence — conversations I’ve had with childless, working folks in their early thirties— I’ve gleaned that population can be less than compassionate towards the plight of their peers-with-kids. Would the response have been any different if more participants polled had kids? If an equal number of men and women had participated? 

It’s unlikely that this information will inform policy. 

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