Peterson Gloor, JL, Okimoto, TG, King, EB. “Maybe baby?” The employment risk of potential parenthood. J Appl Soc Psychol. 2021; 00: 1– 20. https://doi.org/10.1111/jasp.12799

Research grounded in gender role theories has shown that women face numerous employment disadvantages relative to men, with mothers often facing the greatest obstacles. We extend this literature by proposing that motherhood is not a necessary condition for women to face motherhood penalties. Instead, managers’ expectations that an applicant will have a child in the near future (i.e., “maybe baby” expectations) increases their perceptions of risk associated with employing childfree, childbearing-aged women—but not men. Investigating the intersection of gender and age, and integrating economic theories of discrimination, we conceptualize hiring as a risk assessment process, proposing that managers’ risk perceptions drive more precarious employment conditions for this group of women. Results from a field study with early career employees (Study 1) and a randomized experiment with hiring managers (Study 2) support our predictions across attitudinal (e.g., desire to offer a temporary job contract; Study 2) and objective indicators (e.g., having a temporary job contract; Study 1); female applicants can also mitigate this “maybe baby” risk by signaling a lack of interest in having children or by emphasizing their commitment and work ethic (Study 2). Our findings suggest that the perceived risks of parenthood can be hazardous for child-bearing-aged, childfree working women who simply may become parents (vs. men and mothers; vs. childfree women who are significantly younger or older than the average age of the first childbearing in the local context).