A recent study by two sociologists at Cornell University has uncovered an interesting aspect of hiring decisions. Women with children — mothers — don’t compete for jobs as well as men with children — fathers — or childless men and women.

That’s no great surprise. The choices women make at work are often more nuanced than those faced by men. But what is intriguing is how the rest of the folks shook out.

Mothers scored lower than everyone else. Mothers were ranked as less competent and committed and least likely to be promoted. And they were offered lower starting salaries.

Interestingly, the students ranked women without children as the most qualified on several measures, giving them the highest scores for commitment, competence and likelihood of promotion. Even so, childless women weren’t offered the highest starting salaries. Those went to fathers, who also were rated as most likely to be promoted. Childless men didn’t fare as well. They beat mothers on most measures but fell behind childless women on every measure but one.

That leaves us with:

  • Fathers
  • Childless women
  • Childless men
  • Mothers

How do you begin to make sense of that?