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Kids Won't Kill Your Career, Says Study

Vivia Chen

January 21, 2014

Baby-suitcase-by camptown-iStockI must be freaking productive. That's because I'm a working parent—with two kids in the perfect age group (12 years old or older) for maximum productivity.

According to a newly released study of 10,000 economists around the world, parents with two or more kids are incredibly prolific. The study, which comes from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis—why St. Louis? who knows?—finds that economists with at least two kids outperformed colleagues who are childless or have only one child. Performance was measured based on the quantity and quality of the economists' published works.

Here are some key finds from the study, reports The Wall Street Journal: 

- Women with at least two children are more productive than moms with only one child. Mothers in general are more productive than childless women. Same for fathers, though childless men are "somewhat more productive than fathers of one child” at the end of their careers.

- But parents (especially moms) lose productivity if kids are 12 years old or younger: "Mothers average a 17.4% loss, while fathers average a 5% loss. A female economist with three children, on average, loses the equivalent of four years of research output by the time her kids become teenagers."

- Older first-time moms are more productive: Women who have their first child before 30 are less productive, while "for older first-time mothers, the effect remains negative, but it is much smaller and lacks statistical significance."

Some anti-climatic findings from the study: Single moms tend to lose more productivity in the first three years after childbirth than women in stable relationships. Nor is it surprising that male economists without tenure are more productive after becoming a parent than men who are tenured in the same position.

Interestingly, though, being untenured didn't affect female economists' productivity. (Is it because they can rely on their husbands to be the primary support? Or are new moms too overwhelmed to control their productivity?)

In any case, the study turns the popular idea that kids derail careers (especially for women) on its head. In fact, it supports the opposite: Kids are actually career stimulants, provided the woman doesn't crank out babies before 30 and the kids are over 12. (I know, women still pay a price when the kids are little, but at least it's not a permanent penalty, according to the study.)

The study says parents are more productive but doesn't say why. My guess is that they have to be more organized and motivated to keep the career in gear. Or maybe they're working harder because they need to support (and escape) the kids. (Personally, I find being a stay-at-home mom so terrifying that it spurs me to keep going.)

Of course, I don't know if the study's findings would prove true in a work-until-you-drop profession like Big Law. What do you think?

E-mail me: vchen@alm.com     Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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