Careers Working With Kids

That study also unveiled other significant insights about college-educated American moms, particularly when it comes to college selectivity. Professor Hersch wrote,

Although elite graduates are more likely to earn advanced degrees, marry at later ages, and have higher expected earnings, there is little difference in labor market activity by college selectivity among women without children and women who are not married. But the presence of children is associated with far lower labor market activity among married elite graduates.

She reported that when it comes to women who have graduated from the most selective universities, such as Stanford University and others that are typically highest on the college-ranking scales, only 43 percent of these alumnae work full-time after they have children. Let me say that another way: 57 percent of women who have attended the most elite schools in this country either downshift their careers or leave the paid workforce completely after they have children.11 That’s a lot of well-educated talent not being used to help boost our economy.

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And for graduates like me with business school degrees, Professor Hersch found on average 65 percent (!) of graduates from elite colleges who go on to get an MBA and then become mothers no longer work at all.12 Consider the 2015 Harvard Business School survey of alumni that revealed 43 percent of Gen X Harvard Business School graduates did in fact interrupt their careers for kids and a surprisingly high 56 percent of Baby Boomers did as well.13 In other words, despite all of their best-laid plans, a significant portion of the “best and brightest” paused. Hard to change the leadership gap when the very women we might expect to be leading Corporate America have left the workforce.

However, pausing isn’t limited to elite college graduates, and it isn’t the sole province of the upper and upper-middle classes. There is truth to the fact that women who attended elite schools, or who married men who did, are more likely to have greater financial resources and so may have confidence that a career break will not significantly impact their family’s financial well-being. But, the 23 percent of college-educated women who pause their careers each year to stay at home with their children can’t all have attended, or be married to men who attended, the Ivy League.

A 2014 Pew Research Center report stated, “Although they are often in the media spotlight, relatively few married stay-at-home mothers (with working husbands) would qualify as highly educated and affluent … In 2012, nearly 370,000 U.S. married stay-at-home mothers (with working husbands) had at least a master’s degree and family income exceeding $75,000. This group accounted for [only] 5% of married stay-at-home mothers with working husbands.”14 The argument that pausing is only for rich women doesn’t hold up to the facts.

What is true is that the ability to consider a career break, at least as I have defined it for this book, is a privilege. Women at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum don’t have the luxury to downshift their work. They are living day to day. That said, there is a growing segment of women at the bottom end of the socioeconomic spectrum who are moving out of the workforce to care for children. Why? Because the high cost and limited availability of quality child care and the lack of paid sick leave means they have few options. In essence, they are forced to leave their jobs whether they want to or not.

The argument that pausing is only for rich women doesn’t hold up to the facts.

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