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Maternity Leave: Judged if You Do, Judged if You Don't

Maternity Leave: Judged if You Do, Judged if You Don’t

A new study suggests that new moms are judged if they choose to take maternity leave — and if they don’t.

The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggest that women who take time off from their jobs to care for their newborns are seen as less committed and less competent at work, while those who continue working are perceived as less caring mothers.

Lead author Dr. Thekla Morgenroth at the University of Exeter in the UK says the results suggest women are “damned” either way.

“This is a no-win situation for women,” she said. “Our results show that perceptions of competence, whether in the work or family domain, were never boosted — but only impaired — by the maternity leave decision. Both decisions had negative consequences, albeit in different domains.”

“It is important to have policies which allow women to balance work and family life, but it’s also important to understand people’s use of these policies may have unintended consequences.”

For the study, the researchers evaluated the attitudes of 137 women and 157 men, all employed, mostly from the US and the UK. The majority of participants were working full-time (70 percent) and had no children (71 percent). The average age of participants was 33.32 years.

The volunteers were split into three groups in which each was given information about a fictional woman — the only difference was centered around maternity leave. In one version she had taken maternity leave, in another she had continued working, and in a third (control group) the issue was not mentioned.

Participants were then asked to evaluate the woman as a worker and as a parent. In both cases, the women were viewed in a negative light: negative “family” scores for a woman who kept working, and negative “working” scores for a woman who took maternity leave.

The views were the same regardless of the participant’s gender, age, parental status, or nationality, suggesting that these attitudes are universal and pervasive in our culture, said Morgenroth.

If the woman took maternity leave participants determined she prioritized her home life over work, according to the study. If she chose to not take maternity leave, she was perceived as “a worse parent” and “less desirable partner.”

When it came to work, new mothers who took maternity leave were viewed as “significantly less competent” and “less worthy of rewards” than if she had not taken maternity leave. However, if she did not take maternity leave, she was “more worthy” of rewards.

Source: University of Exeter

Maternity Leave: Judged if You Do, Judged if You Don’t

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Maternity Leave: Judged if You Do, Judged if You Don’t. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 Jun 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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