Working mothers, take heart. You are actually more productive than your childless peers…
A study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis looked at the productivity of 10,000 “highly skilled” economists measured in terms of the research they published over the course of their careers. The findings show that over a career span of 30 years, mothers outperformed women without children at almost every stage. What’s more, mothers with two kids were the most productive of all.
That being said, timing is a factor. Christian Zimmerman, a study author, said that young children do take a toll on work. In fact, the researchers reported there is a 15 to 17 percent drop in productivity among women who have little children.
But when you look at the whole career of an individual, on average the person who has two or more children does more. Any dips in productivity when the kids are very young are made up as the kids get older.
The study also showed that within the first five years or so of their careers, women who never have children substantially underperform those who do. The difference in productivity between women with one child and those with no children is less stunning. But in both cases, mothers with at least two children perform the best.
The research results also showcased some interesting findings about men in the workplace. Men who had one child performed similarly to men without children throughout the majority of their careers. But men with two or more children were more productive than both groups.
That being said, it’s important to note that the study surveyed a very narrow pool of respondents. The economists, both men and women, were highly educated, worked in academia, and could afford to pay for resources like childcare, which positioned them to work longer hours. They also benefited from support services like paid sick time and maternity leave.
Low-income or low-skilled mothers often face a very different work situation. Women who became mothers before the age of 30 experienced a negative effect on their professional output. Likewise, unmarried women who became parents or moms who faced unplanned motherhood also experienced a sizable negative impact on productivity. Single or unplanned motherhood reduces the research output in the three years following childbirth by about one-third.
Women who plan to have a child thus manage to organize or reorganize their lives in such a way that research and motherhood are compatible, the study says.
Zimmerman noted that the respondents’ personalities may have contributed to their success. They were a self-selecting group who likely knew they could handle parenthood before embarking on that passage. They were people who never fell off the career track after having children.
If someone was more productive before becoming a parent, it is likely that as a mom she will be more productive after having children as well. This goes for dads too. They also may have been very organized and organization is a trait that contributes to success when parenting and again while on the job.
The good news, though: Given the right conditions, the professional moms surveyed in the St. Louis study, didn’t have to worry that becoming parents would jeopardize their careers. It’s a takeaway that Zimmerman and others familiar with the study suggest could apply to women in similar work situations.
Perhaps even more so, the St. Louis findings dispel the myth that working moms are less valued employees because of their dual loyalties.