In a recent study published in the American Sociological Review, Kate Weisshaar, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, examined how employers respond to applications from candidates who have taken time away from work to stay at home with their children, compared to those who are currently employed or had recently been laid off. To do so, she submitted 3,374 fictitious résumés to job listings in 50 American cities, representing these three types of applicants, and measured how many were called back for interviews or more information. Weisshaar’s findings, which she discussed at the Harvard Business Review last week, suggest a significant bias among employers against parents who take career breaks to raise children:
The results show just how heavily parents reentering the workforce are penalized for their career gap: 15.3% of the employed mothers, 9.7% of the unemployed mothers, and 4.9% of the stay-at-home mothers received a callback. The results were similar for fathers. While 14.6% of the employed fathers and 8.8% of unemployed fathers received a callback, only 5.4% of stay-at-home fathers did.
Put simply, stay-at-home parents were about half as likely to get a callback as unemployed parents and only one-third as likely as employed parents.
To better understand this apparent bias against stay-at-home parents, Weisshaar also conducted a national survey in which respondents were asked to evaluate fictitious résumés that differed only in whether the applicant was continuously employed, had been laid off, or had taken time off to take care of children. Respondents, she found, “viewed stay-at-home parents as less reliable, less deserving of a job, and—the biggest penalty—less committed to work, compared with unemployed applicants.”