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Parent careers price children { May 5 2003 }

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Story last updated at 7:00 a.m. Monday, May 5, 2003
Women with children pay price throughout careers, study shows

If working parents want to spend more time with their children, they have to pay a price at work, says Anne E. Preston, an associate professor of economics at Haverford College in Haverford, Pa.

And that applies to both women and men.

But the price is higher for employed women, even those who are highly educated, because they tend to have more family responsibilities.

"Salaries of highly educated women and men alike are penalized when they have children, but women take a harder hit -- they average 8 to 10 percent less than their male colleagues," said Preston, who has a doctorate in economics.

Though the current wisdom is that professional women start out equal to men, the economist says that "initial wedge" quickly disappears.

"Women often are given lower salaries and fewer responsibilities even when they're first hired, because most employers believe the stereotype that women are less committed and will leave to marry and have children," Preston said.

And, her research shows, when employed women decide to have children and to continue work, the negative impact on their careers already is built in -- even though many do get raises and promotions.

"It's a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of employers," the economist said.

It's especially "tough for women because they have to start out battling expectations that they are not there for the long term -- just because of their gender."

The labor economist, who specializes in careers, bases her observations on her current research paper, "Sex, Kids and Commitment to the Workplace: Employers, Employees and the Mommy Track," a study of what happens to the careers of college-educated women and men as they move through the labor market.

Preston studied 1,000 women and 800 men, all with at least a bachelor's degree in science.

Half had graduate degrees. Not all went into science, however: They also worked in finance, health-care-related professions and teaching.

The average age of those studied was 37. They had been in the paid labor market for about 12 years. And 52 percent of the men and 47 percent of the women had children.

On average, the women had children after eight years in the paid labor market and men had them after seven years.

"Although the earnings of both women and men increase with time, those who had children and spent more time with them had a bigger drop in their earnings," Preston said.

The strength of her research is based on the fact participants were graduated from the same university and had the same academic credentials.

The amount of responsibility that the economist found mothers and fathers took for their children suggests employers aren't the only culprits in the disparity in careers paths.

"Until men take on close to an equal role at home, the pattern will be difficult to break," said Preston.

And here's why: The men on average said they handle 17.6 percent of child care and their spouses, 67 percent, said Preston.

"The women -- who were not spouses of the men in the survey -- said they do 60 percent of all child care and their husbands, 15 percent."

While Mommy Track is a term I dislike, it describes the career path employers often almost automatically put women on when they have children -- and it's not a good one.

In view of the fact that some men in the survey who spent a great deal of time with their children suffered higher salary loss than their female counterparts, should there also be a Daddy Track?

"There might be one, but men don't spend as much time as women with their children," Preston replied.

"Only two men I studied said they had 100 percent of the responsibility for their preschoolers. And 30 percent took on less than 10 percent."

So much for the Daddy Track.

Carol Kleiman is the author of "Winning the Job Game: The New Rules for Finding and Keeping the Job You Want" (Wiley, $16.95). Send e-mail to

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