Family planning isn't only about contraception and figuring out how to not have kids; it’s being intentional in one's approach to pregnancy for the health and well-being of parents and children. Now, a recent study from the Census Bureau indicates that timing kids by a mother's age in the workforce can also recoup extra benefits.
Previous research has shown that the gender pay gap widens when women become mothers, and the reasons are unsurprising. Women are still seen as the primary caregivers of children in heterosexual relationships, and the American workforce is largely structured around that standard — from the organization of day-to-day labor to parental leave offerings.
For better or worse, many women scale back on their careers after having children while their male partners continue to advance. (Considering the high cost of childcare and the fact that men's wages generally grow faster than women's, making that tradeoff is often logical.)
But the Census Bureau's new working paper hones in on exactly when the resulting pay gap is the worst: between ages 25 to 35 — primetime for adults working their way up the food and income chains.
"When women have their first child between age 25 and 35, their pay never recovers, relative to that of their husbands," reports The New York Times. "Yet women who have their first baby either before 25 or after 35 — before their careers get started or once they're established — eventually close the pay gap with their husbands."
As the Times explains, women who turn down promotions or pull out of the workforce (partially or entirely) during key years for professional advance have a very hard time regaining ground. Mothers in their early 20s won't miss out on that window once their children are older and in school, and mothers in their late 30s and early 40s have already established some professional seniority.
But being a high-earner doesn't help either. "High-earning women have a bigger pay gap earlier in their children's lives because they have more income to lose," the Times says. In other words, women who make a lot of money between ages 25 to 35 and pull back from work to care for children aren't shoring up their reserves; they're preparing for a longer financial fall — one they rarely recover from.
As with all research in this arena, telling women to simply plan for children around this window of time is laughable in terms of real-life application. For one thing, building society around work instead of around the people who work is terrible policy. And for another, women and men who want kids today are waiting longer with good reason — namely debt. Hopefully, as various parts of the country continue to agitate for paid family leave, there will be policies that enable all parents to have the best of both worlds — at a reasonable time.
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