How many kids does it take to kill a woman's career? Sorry to make those little darlings culprits, but that's the question that Anna Zhu, a research associate at the University of New South Wales Social Policy Research Centre, asks in a recently released study. Zhu's conclusion: Three kids, and your career is toast.
"The study found that women with three or more children are more than 10 percent less likely to work than mothers with just two kids, even after their kids become teenagers," reports Rachel Emma Silverman at The Wall Street Journal. "Some 68 percent of Australian mothers with two children work, but only 55 percent of mothers with three or more kids are employed, according to the analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics Data for 13,000 women."
Frankly, I'm amazed that even 55 percent of moms with three or more kids are still in the workforce in Australia. (According to Karen Sumberg, a senior vice president at the Center for Work-Life Policy, the second child is the "tipping point" for women in the U.S., reports The Huffington Post.)
My hunch is that the number is probably even lower in certain professions like law, where the pace is unforgiving. So what's the tipping point for women lawyers in America--one-and-a-half children?
I'm not aware of any studies on this point, but from what I've seen, most women lawyers seem to hang in there with two kids--for a while, at least. Many will huff and puff at the firm or go in-house for a few years, then drop out of the legal profession.
But here's the dirty little secret: Not all of them drop out because of the difficulties of juggling home and work. Truth is, some--perhaps many--just get sick and tired of law and want out. And let's fact it--saying that you're quitting work for the sake of the children, the sanctity of the home, is a perfectly acceptable, even laudatory, excuse.
I'm not condemning anyone--male or female--for wanting out. I totally get it. When I was a miserable little first-year associate (working under a cold, horrific--am I allowed to add the adjective "bitchy"?--associate a year or two senior to me), I would have kidnapped the first baby on the street if that could have been my ticket out of the firm.
But let's not forget the flip side: There are also high-achieving women with three or more kids who somehow make it work. What makes them different is that they actually like being a lawyer. I'm not saying there are many of them, or that they have an easy time--but they are definitely out there. (High-powered lawyer-moms with four kids include Jones Day partner Corinne Ball and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Barbara Becker; many more belong to the three-kids club, including Cravath, Swaine & Moore partner Karin DeMasi and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett partner Sarah Cogan. The record, though, seems to belong to Wendy Hufford, deputy general counsel at ITT Corporation, who has eight kids.)
So back to my original question: How many kids is too many for a woman lawyer to keep chugging away at her job? If she really loves what she's doing (and has a supportive spouse or lots of help), I don't think there's an automatic cutoff. But if she hates her job, the first sign of morning sickness or indigestion would suffice.
Correction: Wendy Hufford currently works for ITT. The original post identified her company as Cardinal Health. We regret the error.
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