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Having Children Worst Move A Woman Can Make For Her Career

September 22, 2014

One of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children. Mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications.

So begins the tale that most women know well, that once we birth, we age, we become senile, we become poorer, and we lose respect in the professional arena. Does the same hold true for men? Nope. Having kids is good for a man’s career, but for women, we would be better off not getting married or having kids. (See my post about women getting married and having kids:

For men, marriage is a lot better for their health, having kids helps their career, and they make more money as parents.

For men, meanwhile, having a child is good for their careers. They are more likely to be hired than childless men, and tend to be paid more after they have children.

These differences persist even after controlling for factors like the hours people work, the types of jobs they choose and the salaries of their spouses. So the disparity is not because mothers actually become less productive employees and fathers work harder when they become parents — but because employers expect them to.

The data about the motherhood penalty and the fatherhood bonus present a clear-cut look at American culture’s ambiguous feelings about gender and work. Even in the age of “Lean In,” when women with children run Fortune 500 companies and head the Federal Reserve, traditional notions about fathers as breadwinners and mothers as caregivers remain deeply ingrained. Employers, it seems, have not yet caught up to the fact that women can be both mothers and valuable employees…

I personally think that most employers just haven’t caught on to the fact that women can be valuable employees.

So what’s the parent penalty for women? Steep!

High-income men get the biggest pay bump for having children, and low-income women pay the biggest price, she said in a paper published this month by Third Way, a research group that aims to advance moderate policy ideas. “Families with lower resources are bearing more of the economic costs of raising kids,” she said in an interview.

Is it any wonder that no one pays any attention to our brains because we have vaginas and ovaries? Here is another article, published in the same week, pushing us to have kids sooner because our ovaries might fail!  A woman without childbearing potential? (Life, the horror, will it never end???)

The age of all Canadian mothers has been on the rise from 27 in the early 1970s to 29 in 2008 — in cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary, mothers are even older. If you’re an educated, middle or upper-middle class woman in Canada today, there’s an expectation that babies will be pushed to the backburner for as long as possible.

But the delay can be misguided and, in hindsight, a very bad mistake. Having children earlier, a growing number of advocates argue, makes sense for a number of reasons.

Some ambitious women in their 20s are choosing to start families young, pressing pause on a career they plan to kick into high gear when their children are older rather than disappear from a successful job at the most inflexible time. These women report having lots of energy for their children, and like the thought of still being in their 40s when their children are in high school. They say their bodies bounced back quickly and life as they knew it changed, but didn’t disappear.

Cue the sound card: evil older mother music starts now! Warts! Yes! Saggy boobs–yes! Demon appearance–yes! Talk of withces–of course! Argue that it makes more scientific sense for women to reproduce instead of working–mainstream media onboard! Because, let’s just face it, we know we aren’t any more than our bodies’ appearance, right? “They say their bodies bounced back quickly,” is a much more appropriate topic than going to school, isn’t it? Sooo much more palatable than any discussion of jobs, because apparently we can’t win for losing.

Reproduce or earn money, seems like our only options are two.

Compare the two articles based on scientific studies (because we all know that if science says it, it is true, no?)

From the camp that proves it costs women lots more to have kids than men:

The majority of it, research suggests, is because of discrimination. “A lot of these effects really are very much due to a cultural bias against mothers,” said Shelley J. Correll, a sociology professor at Stanford University and director of the school’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

Ms. Correll co-wrote a study at Cornell in which the researchers sent fake résumés to hundreds of employers. They were identical, except on some there was a line about being a member of the parent-teacher association, suggesting that the applicant was a parent. Mothers were half as likely to be called back, while fathers were called back slightly more often than the men whose résumés did not mention parenthood. In a similar study done in a laboratory, Ms. Correll asked participants how much they would pay job applicants if they were employers. Mothers were offered on average $11,000 less than childless women and $13,000 less than fathers.

These stats are true enough. Mothers are paid less. We all know it. We don’t have to have a study to prove what we all live with everyday, but I am glad she did the study just so that the doubters will have some proof of the discrimination.

And now from the Women Are Nothing More Than Expiring Ovaries:

A 2012 study in the U.K. journal Human Reproduction found that 67% of university-aged women and 81% of their male counterparts who say they want children inaccurately think female fertility markedly declines after age 40. That steep decrease actually happens from age 35 to 39.

Across North America there are still pockets in which it’s normal to be a young mother, says Michelle Horton, founder of, a website devoted to “redefining the young mom.” When she got pregnant with her son at 22 she was living in hipster-heavy Brooklyn, where it’s virtually unheard of to have a child under 30.

“We are in this generation where we have heard all of our lives you’re supposed to get your career done first, you’re supposed to do things in this proper order,” she said. “But we’re also seeing the generation before us struggling with infertility and saying ‘Gosh I wish I should have realized there’s no perfect time to have a kid and if it was really important to me, I should have done it before my fertility expired.

News to me: I never knew women expired.

Realistically, why is it that we are uber focused on women having kids at all? I wish I knew why we still lived by the Madonna/Whore code, but it seems we can’t take talk of ovaries out of the boardroom, mainly because they never make it there.

Distressing stuff, really. It’s no surprise that the labor market mirrors societal expectations:

In her research, Ms. Correll found that employers rate fathers as the most desirable employees, followed by childless women, childless men and finally mothers. They also hold mothers to harsher performance standards and are less lenient when they are late.

There was one exception in Ms. Budig’s study: Women in the top 10 percent of earners lost no income when they had children, and those in the top 5 percent received bonuses, similar to men. She speculated that in these rarefied jobs, employers see high-performing women as more similar to men, and that women might work more and negotiate for higher pay in order to afford household and child care help.

At the other end of the earnings spectrum, low-income women lost 6 percent in wages per child, two percentage points more than the average. For men, the largest bonuses went to white and Latino men who were highly educated and in professional jobs. The smallest pay bumps went to unmarried African-American men who had less education and had manual labor jobs. “The daddy bonus increases the earnings of men already privileged in the labor market,” Ms. Budig wrote.

The article then mentions how publicly-funded childcare helps mothers but then offers the unhelpful statistic that in countries with publicly-funded childcare, women face a steeper parenthood penalty.

The best solution for the pay gap, it seems? Giving men parental leave, too. Maybe when we treat the parents as equal partners at work, that will translate to more equal treatment at work, hmmm? Why shouldn’t the father have paternal leave? Take the gender out of it and make it parental leave, and then, when men got time off, the pay hits would probably level off. There is already a gender gap at work that seems acceptable: “It really takes 6 weeks for you to recover from childbirth?? That seems too long…” Perhaps we should just give everyone leave and then we would take the gender discussion out of it. If men are given equal responsibility, expected to be fathers, expected to take 6 weeks to take care of their children, take the physical recovery out of the discussion, we might have a much better glimpse of the true pay gap for women. I say we acknowledge that paternity is a responsibility and we may get more respect for maternity.



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