Thinking of having kids early? Think again

A new study shows that early motherhood results in lower wages.

By Page Rockwell
Published December 9, 2005 8:24PM (EST)

There are some good reasons for a woman to opt to have children before she's 30 -- women tend to be more fertile when they're younger; the risks for fetal abnormalities like Down syndrome are lower for younger mothers; and some say it's easier to chase after young children if you're young and energetic yourself. But a Broadsheet reader tipped us off to a new study that says there's one big reason to delay having kids: cash money. It's not just that women who have children later have had more time to save money before having kids -- their lifelong earnings are also noticeably higher.

University of Virginia economist Amalia Miller found that if a woman in her 20s delays having children for a year, she'll increase her lifetime earnings by 10 percent. The reasons for this, Steven Landsburg explains in today's Slate, are that a woman who delays having a baby "will earn higher wages -- about 3 percent higher -- for the rest of her life; the rest is because she'll work longer hours." Landsburg continues, "For college-educated women, the effects are even bigger. For professional women, the effects are bigger yet -- for these women, the wage hike is not 3 percent, but 4.7 percent." Landsburg gives Miller extra props for demonstrating that "early motherhood is not only correlated with lower wages, it actually causes them." Plus, he says, "it appears that none of these effects are mitigated by the passage of family-leave laws."

But does that mean it would be better for a woman to have her first kid when she's 40? you ask. Wouldn't the increased medical risks of that decision offset any economic benefit? Well, yes, and, as it turns out, there isn't much economic benefit to delaying having kids once you reach your 30s anyway. The big payoff really happens for women in their 20s. For younger women who are considering having kids, but wrestling with what that decision could mean for their finances, though, that 10 percent is nothing to sneeze at. Hey, maybe it can help pay for day care when the moms go back to work!

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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