Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' Research Division examined the effect of pregnancy and parenthood on the research productivity
of academic economists.
They looked at the amount of published research from nearly 10,000 economists, as well as other measures of research productivity such as the quality of the journals in which the professors published.
They asked the economists about how many kids they had when they had them, and their marriage status, and crossed all that with the number of papers they published (acknowledging that lag times in publishing can be long and a bit distorting).
Here’s what they found: In every single time period, women with children are producing more than their peers with none. Kids, it seems, are the ultimate efficiency hack.
This proved to be true despite a significant dip in productivity for mothers of young children. In a finding that will surprise no one with toddlers, women’s productivity dips 15% to 17% when the kids are young, compared to those with no kids. Two preteens are associated, on average, with a productivity loss of 22%, and three preteens with an average loss of 33%. That means “a mother of three children has, on average, a research record reflecting a loss of four years of research output by the time all of her children have reached their teens,” the paper said. A mother with two kids loses about 2.5 years of productivity.
And yet, women are making up for that lost productivity. Christian Zimmermann, one of the authors, told the Washington Post: “While you have small children, it has an impact on you. But after that, it seems that the impact is the other way.”
Women’s productivity advantage also comes despite the “motherhood penalty,” which researchers have noted makes the effects of parenthood significantly worse for women than for men. The reduction in productivity for parents of multiple preteens is 19.1% for mothers, for example, and 5.4% for fathers, the study shows. (It also shows that men with children are more productive than those without, but that changes at the end of their career when the childless lot pulls ahead.)