The Mommy Penalty on Online Dating Sites

The mommy penalty is most often associated with the economic disadvantages women with children face in the labor market. Women with children receive lower pay and fewer promotions than their male counterparts with and without children. Recent data released by the dating site AYI indicate that the mommy penalty may extend to other areas of life as well, namely online dating. According to the study, single mothers are much less likely to be contacted online than women without children.

AYi's findings are consistent with existing sociological research to date indicating that men are less likely to express interest in dating women with children. Women's marital status may further compound the disadvantage mothers face on the dating market. For example, among single mothers over 30, divorced women are more likely to be messaged relative to their never married, widowed and separated counterparts. Women with children theoretically may be considered less desirable because mothers are more likely to retain primary custody of their children.

Men, however, do not face a penalty for being fathers. In fact, men with children are likely to receive more messages than their counterparts without children. For example, men in their 30s with children are 2.3% more likely to receive messages than men without children. Men with children may be considered more attractive than men without children because they are used to being around and may be more receptive to children.

While aging is not often considered a positive factor for women in the dating game, mothers fare better as they age. After women turn 50 years old, their status as mothers no longer significantly influences their likelihood of receiving messages online. Presumably, status as a mother does not affect women over 50 years of age because they have passed their childbearing years. Moreover, having children may not affect the dating prospects for women over age 50 because their children are more likely to be older and require less investment from a prospective partner.

The selection process, however, is two-sided. Women with children may also be more likely to limit their pool of prospective suitors. For example, women with children are more selective in their messaging behavior. Mothers are more selective than their childless counterparts because prospective suitors must theoretically be evaluated as both romantic partners and father figures.

Online dating is already challenging for many individuals. Single moms also face many challenges that childless women do not face inside and outside of the online dating market. Given the high rate of single motherhood in the U.S., the motherhood penalty on online dating should be examined further.