Yes, the motherhood penalty is real

Jan 10, 2024

The motherhood penalty—the idea that moms are less competent and committed to work, which results in lower earnings and fewer opportunities for career advancement—is real. 

This is problematic in many ways, but it’s not something we see public figures talk a ton about - until now. The tides are finally turning thanks to advocates like Paula Faris.

Yes, we’re talking about that Paula, former co-host of The View, anchor at Good Morning America and a general correspondent at ABC. 

After years as an Emmy-winning journalist, the mom of three founded CARRY Media™, where she champions women in the workforce to transform the reality of working mothers. 

We chatted with Paula about her transition out of TV to become a trusted resource for working mothers and some of the interesting topics she covered in her new book, You Don't Have to Carry It All: Ditch the Mom Guilt and Find a Better Way Forward.

Here are three highlights:

She got to the top—and then burned out and made a change 

At the height of Paula’s career in 2018, it seemed like she had it all – but she was actually super burned out. She pumped the brakes to join ABC, where she had a more standard Monday through Friday schedule that allowed her to see her family. Then, right before the pandemic, she learned they weren’t renewing her contract.

“I really started realizing when I was working that motherhood is very marginalized in this country,” she said. “It was my own experience of just getting passed over on promotions and getting paid less, being valued less, being scrutinized more.”

Instead of continuing her career as a TV journalist, Paula and her family left New York City for South Carolina, where she formed CARRY Media™ to focus on advocacy work to ensure mothers feel well supported and valued in the workplace. She chose her company name because she wants to help carry the burdens of working moms.

The happiness gap that exists for U.S. working mothers

Paula talked to historians, sociologists, thought leaders, theologians and moms from all walks of life while writing her book to figure out what we can do as a society to support working moms and why it's important. 

“I wanted this book to feel like a hug and a sword,” she said. “I wanted mothers to feel seen and heard, but I also wanted them to feel really empowered. And I wanted there to be some almost myth-busting, some context as to like, ‘Here's why it's so freaking hard.’”

One of her sources, Dr. Jennifer Glass, a University of Texas sociology professor and the executive director at the Council for Contemporary Families, conducted research that exposed a “happiness gap.” It means there is a substantial delta between the happiness of parents and non-parents because of the stress and the strain of raising children in this country.

“We don't have support from the policymakers,” Paula said. “We don't have support from society. We have a general attitude in this country of, ‘Your kid, your problem.’ It's not like that in other countries. So this happy gap is an American phenomenon.”

Spousal inequality is fairly new

Paula’s husband left his job – twice – to prioritize her career opportunities in other cities. She acknowledges that her story of spousal equity is the exception.

That's where she got into researching the historical perspective of marriage and partnerships. She found that the expectation that a man's job will be more important than a woman's is fairly new. 

“The most traditional nuclear family wasn't that 1950s family,” Paula said. “It was the family that worked side-by-side, that labored and produced and parented together.”

While she thinks many families are still living with the generational weight of this outdated concept of gender roles, Paula thinks there’s much more equality today thanks to millennial dads and even Gen Zers.

“Spouses are becoming true partners,” she said. “So it's not like you do this, I do that. You're actually partnering in everything together.”

Want to learn more about Paula’s advocacy around equity in the workforce for women and her new book? Listen to the full episode of The False Tradeoff.