We know the motherhood penalty is real and is costing working moms about $16,000 a year, but a new study shows something surprising (and infuriating): When it comes to part-time work the penalization comes before the pregnancy.

A large-scale study published last month in the journal Labour Economics found evidence of fertility discrimination in hiring practices in three different countries, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria and found that married women who don't have kids were less likely to be hired for part-time roles than older, married women with older children because employers view these coupled but childfree women as pregnancy risks.

Basically, employers are less likely to hire a woman if they think she'll start a family soon.

The researchers found that when it comes to applying to part-time jobs, women who have two school-age children are the most likely to get an interview, while married women who don't have kids have the lowest callback rates.

While this study was focused on German-speaking countries, the problem certainly exists in English-speaking nations. A 2018 survey of managers in the UK found 28% have or would discount a woman applying for a job because she was recently engaged or married and they could imagine her starting a family soon.

Stateside, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that, officially, employers are not allowed to discriminate against people because they may become pregnant, or intend to become pregnant, but unofficially some employers do admit to not hiring women because of the perceived risk of pregnancy, just like the employers in the recent European study.

When family-friendly jobs won't hire those who might start a family

The researchers behind that study of part-time job applicants were surprised to see that potential fertility put candidates at such a disadvantage even when applying in a category noted for being family-friendly. Part-time jobs certainly do appeal to parents and would-be parents, but they also appeal to people who don't have kids.

According to researchers at Perdue University, more and more of today's workers are "desperately seeking sustainable careers" through part-time arrangements and reduced workloads that still allow them to move forward in their career while not spending 40 or more hours at their desk.

Jordan Jayson is among the growing number of professionals taking pay cuts in exchange for lighter loads, and for her parenting was the motivation. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Jayson—a digital media professional in New York City—explains that she volunteered to take a 20% pay cut if she could work four days a week after coming back from maternity leave.

Unfortunately for Jayson, while her pay was reduced by 20% her workload wasn't. "My work ethic didn't change. I often took phone calls or meetings on the 'fifth day' if something important was going on," she explains.

Part-time women produce full-time results

Jayson's attitude is a common one. Perdue's researchers say that most of the time employees in roles like hers get as much done as a full time worker, and a report by multinational firm Ernst & Young concluded "women in flexible roles (part-time, contract or casual) appear to be the most productive members of our workforce."

Women like Jayson are super hard workers, sometimes even to their own detriment. Another recent study found moms who work part-time in flexible roles end up working an average of 20 minutes of unpaid overtime per week.

It's a bad deal for moms like Jayson, but a good sign for employers. These women are productive and loyal. It's just too bad employers are passing up the opportunity to hire hard-working, efficient part-time employees because they may, possibly, one day have a baby.

We know the motherhood penalty is real, and now we know that the pre-motherhood penalty is real, too. It's gender and age discrimination, which is usually illegal and always wrong.

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