At least in some careers, men and women who have more children outperform those who have no children or only one child.
I don’t often cite the work of a Federal Reserve Bank with any appreciation, but in this case I have to admit I am happy for a recent study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve. Based on their data they argue that both fathers and mothers are more productive than childless men and women. It even seems that, in some cases, the more children one has the more productive one becomes at work.
From the Washington Post’s Wonkblog: “Study: Women with more children are more productive at work.”
Here’s how the researchers (all men, by the way) came up with those results: They wanted to understand the impact of having children on highly skilled women, but their work is often difficult to quantify. How do you determine the productivity of a surgeon, a consultant or a project manager?
They decided to analyze the amount of research published by more than 10,000 academic economists as a proxy for performance. A job in the ivory tower of academia requires higher education by definition, and their work is easily searched, recorded and ranked.
The results were surprising. For men, fathers of one child and those without children performed similarly throughout much of their careers. But men with two or more kids were more productive than both groups.
The effect for women was even more dramatic. Using their own method for analyzing research publications, the authors found that within the first five or so years of their career, 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 more muted using a different ranking for research. But in both cases, mothers with at least two children perform the best.)
For mothers, there was a decline in productivity while the children were small. But that was more than made up by the increased productivity both before and after the births of their children.
Since these women were upper level professionals, with many options that poorer mothers wouldn’t have, like child care, the findings would not necessarily apply to poor parents. But it would be great if someone could find a way to check how children affected productivity at other economic levels.
In any case, for some people, we have confirmation that “working mothers” really work hard. We also have provisional evidence that children are an asset and not a liability, even for their working parents when they are at work.