The “Bad Parent” Assumption: How Gender Stereotypes Affect Reactions to Working Mothers


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Tyler G. Okimoto, UQ Business School, The University of Queensland, Brisbane QLD 4072, Australia [e-mail:].


Although balancing work and family commitments is a significant source of strain for working parents, working mothers in traditionally male positions face additional anxiety due to unfounded assumptions about their competence as employees, assumptions rooted in gender stereotypes. However, stereotype-based assumptions can also bias competence impressions of these working mothers in family domains, depicting them as bad parents. In four experimental studies, we documented evidence that working mothers are seen as less effective parents than nonworking mothers. Consistent with the argument that gender stereotypes underlie these findings, the bad parent assumption was apparent only for mothers and not fathers (Study 1), only when working in a male sex-typed occupation (Study 2), more intensely when job success was clear (Study 3), and only when working out of personal choice (Study 4). Similar patterns were observed in ratings of interpersonal appeal (e.g., likability, friend desirability, coworker desirability), relational judgments suggesting that there are also negative social consequences for working mothers.