It’s no secret that becoming a mother can significantly impact a woman’s career path. But, does the age at which women have a first child make a difference, for both short-term and lifelong wages? New research suggests it does, for both those with and without college degrees. Is there an age that’s better than others?
Drawing from Denmark’s robust data collection, researchers analyzed birth statistics and other family information of 1.6 million Danish women, aged 25 to 60, from 1995 to 2009 to see how lifetime earnings were affected by the age of becoming a mother. They looked at total labor income while also taking into account what happens to income in the short-term and in the long-term when birthing a first child at different ages. Mothers’ marital status at first birth was examined; single mothers and those who were self-employed or did not work were excluded. In addition, the study weighed whether a college degree—or lack thereof—was a factor.
The findings suggest that women who do not want to sacrifice career income losses are better off having a first child after age 30. “The higher labor income associated with having a first child later in life at least until age 31 are clear for both college and non-college women,” researchers discovered. They found that younger first-time moms in particular are at a career disadvantage: “Mothers lose between 2 and 2.5 years of their labor income if they have their first children before the age of 25.”
Want to make more money? Have babies after 30
More women in the US and other developed countries are finishing their educations and staying in the labor force until they feel established in their jobs or careers before starting their families--perhaps unintentionally guarding against potential income losses.
Women whose age of first birth was under 25 had a biggest lifetime labor income loss. Among them, those with college degrees had a lifetime income loss of minus 204%; those without, minus 252%. On the contrary, there were lifetime career income gains for women who were 31 and older at the time they gave birth to their first child.
“The largest gains for college women are 13% of their average annual income and this figure is 50% for non-college women,” according to the study. In the short-term, the study concluded that college educated women experience a 37% to 65% loss in labor income, as compared to 40% to 53% for non-college degree holders if they had their first child before age 31.
"Children do not kill careers, but the earlier children arrive the more their mother's income suffers. There is a clear incentive for delaying," said Raul Santaeulalia-Llopis, a study co-author.
Would you or did you put off having children until your thirties to advance your career path or to feel more secure in your job?
Leung MYM, Groes F, Santaeulalia-Llopis R (2016) "The Relationship between Age at First Birth and Mother's Lifetime Earnings: Evidence from Danish Data." PLoS ONE 11(1): e0146989. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0146989
Copyright @2016 by Susan Newman