The research, based on confidential interviews of 167 employers in Scotland, found women with children under five were the most disadvantaged, with many bosses refusing to take on those with family commitments.
Research carried out by the Employment Research Institute (ERI) at Napier University in Edinburgh found some bosses were prepared to break the law and overlook a strong candidate because they assumed a mother would need time off to look after young children.
Employers admitted that women with young children were seen as a huge gamble and, as a result, were 56 times less likely to get the job.
Professor Ronald McQuaid of the ERI, said: “For these employers, it is not gender that is the issue, but rather women having young children.
There were many positive cases where employers had overcome some previous misperceptions and worries about the flexibility of parents with young children and found them to be reliable and very productive staff.
“Indeed many larger employers, such as some banks, have long sought to retain skilled women with young children, although there seems to be a difference between employers adapting to keep an existing employee who has had a child and actually taking on someone new with a young child.
It is important that both young parents and employers are helped to overcome both real and perceived barriers to the employing women with young children.”