What does it mean to be childfree at work?

By Victoria Fryer 

About a month or so ago, one of my childfree friends told me about an experience she had at work. A big project was coming down the pike, and some extra sets of hands were needed to stay late one night to move things forward. As my friend relayed to me, she was told that “folks who don’t have small children at home,” needed to be there.

This got me thinking about how childfree and childless women are treated at work. Is it different than their colleagues who are parents?

An article in The American Lawyer recently came out proclaiming “Childless women are scorned” at work. It summarizes a paper put out by several psychology professors investigating how the maternal status of female law professors affects the way those women are treated at work. (You can read the whole academic paper here, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

After reading the paper more closely, it turns out that the headline is employing a bit of click-bait; there is no real conclusion that childless or childfree women are particularly “scorned” any more than their female counterparts with children. Instead, it finds that men without children get the biggest boost because they’re seen as ultra-committed to their careers. Childfree or childless women don’t get that same boost; so, compared to childfree men, it’s true: women get the short end of the stick.

But in the end, it seemed as if the ultimate conclusion was that men are treated with less incivility than women—regardless of maternal status. The strangest part of the article, though, is when it interprets the research as finding that women who are mothers weather the storm of incivility at work better than their childfree counterparts because of the “buffering” effect of family life.

I suppose that conclusion could speak to the difference between feeling like your great purpose in life is advancing your career versus raising your family. Nevertheless, I’d be interested in seeing further research on the topic—particularly research that goes beyond the scope of female lawyers and into other fields and careers.

Anyway, it’s an interesting dilemma. I have not personally ever felt like I was treated with any sort of disdain at work because I don’t have children. And, unlike my friend, I have never been explicitly asked to do more, stay later, or work harder than my colleagues who are parents. But this is all anecdotal. I’m wondering about other people’s experiences. Do you find you’re treated differently at work because you don’t have children? Are expectations different?

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

Childfree woman

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