There’s the old adage that says if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. However, I feel we could easily substitute the word “person” for “mom” in that statement.
A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis found that, over the course of a 30-year career, moms were more productive at work than women without children. So, it would seem that whole myth of the “distracted working mom” needs to be tossed out with the recycling.
The goal of the study was to chronicle the impact of motherhood on highly-skilled career women. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis focused on research published by more than 10,000 academic economists, as their work can be easily searched and ranked for the purposes of the study. The caveat, however, is that this is a highly-educated group of people who likely have daycare options, paid maternity leave, and healthcare benefits.
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The study found that men who are fathers of two children or more see a small increase in productivity while at work—but, in general, their careers weren’t affected by family life. Women, on the other hand, had much more dramatic results. The study found that “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.”
But, as with any study, it gets a little complicated. Women who had children before the age of 30 saw a larger decline in productivity—especially when their kids were younger. Yet, women who had children in their 30s and early 40s did not experience as large a dip in their work output.
All the women experienced some loss in productivity when their children were young, however many of them become substantially more focused at work as their kids got older. As one of the study’s authors explained on The Today Show: “It’s all about timing. 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.”
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These results may seem counter-intuitive to any mother who is trying to balance the heavy demands of needy kids, crazy schedules, and work expectations. Just because the numbers tell us that the working moms are more productive does not mean being a mother makes you more productive (though, anecdotally I am going to say it does—but I’m no scientist). The researchers posit that the results may reflect the types of people who have two kids or more and continue with demanding careers. They suggest that if a person was hard-working before they have kids, “it is likely that he or she will also be more productive afterward.”
This study does fly in the face of the financial gender gap and the so-called “mommy penalty.” The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development calculated that, in Canada, women who are mothers earn 30 percent less than their men counterparts, as opposed to women without children who earn seven percent less than men. In fact, men who are dads tend to earn four percent more than men who are not fathers—they get a stability bonus, while women suffer a parenthood penalty.
So, thanks to the Federal Reserve Band of St. Louis study, we know that mothers are more significantly more productive than their peers a few years after having kids. We also know that women get paid less than men, despite this productivity.
We can only hope that this study will make employers change their opinions on working moms and their commitment to their careers. Maybe it can also alleviate some of the guilt women feel when it comes to trying to maintain a work-life balance. Being a busy mom doesn’t automatically lessen your commitment to work—in fact, it just might make you a smarter, more productive employee.
So, go ahead and enjoy a couple of sick days and six hours of Frozen on repeat with your kids. When you get back into the office, you’ll be at the top of your game.