SNS Research Brief 78. Children: Do They Hinder Women’s Careers?

Petter Lundborg

SNS Analys 2021.10.18

When women have children, they tend to work fewer hours and switch to jobs that pay less but are closer to home, which has a major impact on their lifetime earnings. This is shown in a study based on Danish data presented in the new SNS report Children: Do They Hinder Women’s Careers? written by economist Petter Lundborg.

SNS Research Brief 78. Children – Do They Hinder Women’s Careers 40.7 KB PDF

According to this study, women lose more than DKK 400,000 (SEK 500,000) over a ten-year period after having given birth to their first child. However, no corresponding loss is noticeable for their partners. In the short term, this loss of income reflects that women who have children work fewer hours or stop working altogether. In the long term, this drop is due to lower wages since women after having children tend to choose jobs paying less while being closer to home – the commuting distance goes down by as much as five kilometers.

“If this reflects well-considered decisions, one may look upon this difference as relatively unproblematic. If, on the other hand, it is based on firm notions regarding gender roles, there is more reason to consider measures addressing this inequality. My hope is that our study may serve as the basis for such a discussion,” says Petter Lundborg, professor of economics at Lund University.

It is already an established fact that becoming a parent is associated with worse labor market outcomes among women than among men. However, quantifying this relationship and scientifically determining the cause and effect is challenging. This has to do with the difficulty in finding appropriate comparison groups. The choice of having children is not random, which causes problems from a research perspective. Petter Lundborg and his colleagues have managed to find an innovative way of addressing this problem, as they have studied women undergoing assisted fertilization (IVF treatment). The women in the study whose treatment results in a pregnancy and the women where the treatment is unsuccessful are so similar that it is more or less random who eventually becomes a parent, making them appropriate comparison groups. This means that an important research condition is met and that the researchers are able to draw conclusions about cause and effect.

Regarding the study

Detailed data on Danish women undergoing IVF treatments between 1995 and 2005 were used to perform these analyses. The study focused on women with no prior children undergoing their first treatment. This resulted in a population consisting of 18,538 IVF-treated women.

The IVF register was linked to other administrative registers containing information on aspects such as education, age, marital status and various labor market variables such as hours worked, wage, employment, sector and employer.

The Danish women undergoing IVF treatment differ from other Danish women. These women are better educated, work more, have higher wages and are older when they have their first child as compared to a representative sample of Danish women having children during the same period. Hence, tests and comparisons were carried out to analyze the generalizability of the results. Several factors indicate that despite these differences, the identified effects are relevant for other groups as well.