Skip to content

Being Single and Smart Is Bad for Young Women’s Careers, Study Finds

Working mothers have long been known to be at a disadvantage, but single women see career damage as well

RF programmer office work female
Photographer: Laurence Dutton/Getty Images

Social scientists — and women themselves — have long known that working mothers face a myriad of disadvantages in their careers even in non-pandemic times. Now, they're finding out that their single, analytically-minded counterparts are more likely to be considered unfit for leadership positions at their jobs than male or female married co-workers or single men.

Researchers at George Washington University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School conducted studies examining perceptions of single people. In one, they asked 300 respondents about a fictional woman, named Ann, and a fictional man, named Tim. Those who were told that Ann enjoyed traveling with her friends were less likely to recommend her for a significant promotion into a leadership position at work than those who were told that Ann enjoyed traveling with her husband and children. There wasn’t such a difference for respondents who were told that Tim enjoyed traveling with his friends, compared to those who were told he enjoyed traveling with his wife and children.

A second study looked at the real careers of 600 people with MBAs. Young, single women who scored well on their entrance exams and displayed analytical talent experienced more career setbacks than married and single men, married women, and single women who did not display skills perceived as “masculine.” The researchers found that both men and women appraised the single women with a similar lens.