Moms with 2 or more kids are more productive at work, study finds

Mother working with sons on homework project; Shutterstock ID 110562605; PO:
A study this year found that in a group of highly skilled professional women, being a mother of two or more children was associated with more productivity.Shutterstock

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By Meena Hart Duerson

Worried that having kids will slow you down at work? It could be just the opposite.

A recent study examining the link between productivity and parenthood among a group of academic economists found that moms and dads who had two or more children were more productive than those with only one child or no children.

The study, published as a working paper by the research division at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in January, focused on a specialized group of 10,000 highly skilled economists, but was flagged by the Washington Post on Thursday as encouraging news for working moms.

A study this year found that in a group of highly skilled professional women, being a mother of two or more children was associated with more productivity.Today

"Mothers of at least two children are, on average more productive than mothers of only one child, and mothers in general are more productive than childless women," the study found.

For the purposes of the study, productivity was measured in terms of the research the economists in the group published over the course of their careers.

Researchers noted that the impact of having children on a parent's productivity changed over time: When children were young, their parents were less productive, but as kids grew older — into their teenage years and beyond — their parents' productivity increased, ultimately surpassing that of their peers with one or no children.

"It's all about timing," Christian Zimmermann, one of the study's authors, told "It's really when the children are younger that there is an impact, but if you consider the whole career of the person, then on average, the person [who has two or more children] is doing better."

And the study wasn't just good news for mothers: It also concluded that "fathers of at least two children are more productive than fathers of one child and childless men."

However, Zimmermann says the findings may be more about the personality of these parents than about the effect parenthood has on how well you can work. He notes that the 10,000 parents who were studied do not include those moms and dads who fell off the career track after having children, so the subjects were a self-selecting group who likely knew they could handle parenthood before embarking on it.

If someone was more productive before becoming a parent, "it is likely that he or she will also be more productive afterward," the study notes.

There were also exceptions to the instances in which parenthood was positively linked to productivity. Women who became mothers before the age of 30 saw a "detrimental effect" on their professional output, as did unmarried women who became parents.

Women in the workplace are well aware of the perils of parenthood: A 2013 report found that moms with kids under 18 earn less than women without minor children, while their male counterparts earn more than the men who don't have young kids. And research cited in the St. Louis study notes that "women with children face a wage penalty of around 10% to 15% compared with women without children."

The St. Louis study speaks to, by nature of its data pool, a narrow group of highly educated, highly skilled professional women among whom parenthood is "usually planned," and the authors acknowledged that the findings may not apply to a wider set of women in different circumstances.

The good news is that, given the right conditions, these professional moms didn't have to worry that becoming parents would jeopardize their careers — a takeaway that Zimmermann suggests could apply to other women in similar work situations.