Can Kids Kill Your Career?

I admit, the headline caught me.  "Are Children Career Killers?"

This was a study conducted by Washington University in St. Louis and the results?  Women should wait till after 30 to have children if they want career growth, according to newswise.com.

I'm not so sure I agree with that.  Now, most women don't wait till their mid-40s like I did, but the thinking is that, for college graduates and even those without a college degree, researchers found lower lifetime incomes for women who gave birth for the first time at age 30 or younger. The hit was particularly stark for women without college degrees who had their first children before age 25.

"The findings highlight the financial trade-offs women make when considering their fertility and career decisions,” the web site quotes Man Yee (Mallory) Leung, a postdoctoral research associate at Washington University School of Medicine. “Other studies have focused on the effect of children on women’s wages, but ours is the first to look at total labor income from ages 25 to 60 as it relates to a woman’s age when she has her first baby.”

 I took time off after having my son, and then was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 3, and again when he was 5.  So that pretty much wiped me out of the labor market for quite some time, between surgeries and treatment.  When I was ready to go back, the market wasn't interested.

I had quite a few years where I pounded on doors, to no avail, and then, out of the blue, two summers ago, a company contacted and hired me.  I'm pretty sure that won't happen again, but I didn't think it would happen once!

Back when I was in the corporate world, no female executive (of whom there weren't too many) had children.  Most of them weren't even married.  Today it's a different story, of course (look at Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, pregnant with twins, after having her first child shortly before taking the reins at the company).  We won't go into the fact that many think she sank the company.

For this study, Leung and colleagues analyzed work experience, birth statistics and other household data of nearly 1.6 million Danish women ages 25-60 from 1995 to 2009 to estimate how a woman’s lifetime earnings are influenced by her age at birth of first child.

“Children do not kill careers, but the earlier children arrive the more their mother’s income suffers. There is a clear incentive for delaying,” says Raul Santaeulalia-Llopis, assistant professor of economics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University. “Our main result is that mothers lose between 2 and 2.5 years of their labor income if they have their first children before the age of 25.”

Researchers arrived at these estimates by calculating average annual salaries for each woman and using this average as a measuring stick for both short- and long-term income losses associated with age at birth of first child. Income losses were estimated for women who had their first children before age 25 and for each subsequent three-year age range (ie. 25-to-28), with the last range being 40 years of age or older.

Researchers also found:

  • College-educated women who had children before age 25 lose about two full years of average annual salary over their careers; women in this category with no college degree lose even more, forgoing about 2.5 years of average annual salary during their working careers.
  • Women who first give birth before age 28, regardless of college education, consistently earn less throughout their careers than similarly educated women with no children.
  • College-educated women who delay having their first children until after age 31 earn more over their entire careers than women with no children.

The researchers noted these income trends while studying the effects of in vitro fertilization on women’s labor and fertility choices. Here, they found a general shift toward women having a first child later in life, with a greater proportion of college-educated women pushing first birth into the 28-34 age range.

 "The fact that highly productive women who have children earlier enter a lower income path is not only a loss for them, but for the entire society,” says Santaeulalia-Llopis. “If children are shutting down women’s career growth and these pervasive effects vanish after the mid-30s, then we should start taking seriously the case for employer-covered fertility treatments. But we need to dig deeper to establish causation and assess costs and benefits.”

So, are we penalized for having kids?  No one really wants to come right out and say it, but it sure looks that way.  




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