Leaving your job altogether

You've had a baby. Quitting your job is on your mind.

Leaving your job after you have had children is a creeping temptation. It has crossed your mind more times than you can count. You even see people around you do it. Should you?

It's completely natural to be feeling pulled at different ends as we navigate the cultural expectations of both intense mothering and keeping up the with never-ending expectations of American work culture.

The challenge to identity is also well noted in contemporary motherhood.

There are several downsides to working as a mother. For starters, take the motherhood wage penalty, where working women start making less once they have children and this just worsens with higher education levels [1].  

Then just tack on how unfriendly US workplaces are for new parents. It is an absolute empirical reality that it's hard to combine work with the demands of being an involved mother.

And of course the guilt! Even if you are confident enough to balk at the cultural notion of an ideal mother, you may simply want to spend more quality time with your kids.  It’s hard to when you're working all the time!

The road is pretty windy as well. When it comes to advancing careers, mothers often have to pivot and follow a nonlinear arc. They either don't follow the corporate ladder or they  scale back, drop out, drop into something part-time, or telecommute. The driver is obvious: some research has demonstrated that almost 40% of women with high performance careers have intentionally chosen a job position with lower responsibilities and pay in order to focus on domestic priorities [2].

Even though I acknowledge the downsides, I am biased towards the upsides.

That's primarily because of a very empowering idea explored in some great research:

Women who value work highly also value motherhood highly. These values tend to be positively correlated, even if employers feel otherwise [3].

The other major reason to consider staying in the workforce has to do with the taboo topic of money.

Whether you are into the FIRE movement or not, the idea of being financially on top of everything is natural in productivity.

Across job sectors women end up forfeiting 37% of their earning potential after leaving a job for three or more years [2].

It is not surprising that women who exit the labor force cannot quite catch up in terms of earnings to men or their peers who did not leave for caretaking. Especially because of the motherhood wage penalty.

Common sense in personal finance is that you need to start earning and saving when you are young so you can take advantage of compounding.

Because earnings earlier in your life often coincide with when you are starting to build a family, the net effect is that you cannot earn as much as someone who isn't a mother. If you take any kind of break, your road is just going to get more narrow in terms of earning power. In fact, the road narrows in terms of earning power, growth, and optionality when you exit the workforce.

The road narrows in terms of earning power, growth, and optionality when you exit the workforce

Women often step out of their careers to take care of their families. They provide the hard work of childcare and also fulfill the valuable role of parenting and nurturing.

While the decision makes sense from an emotional standpoint in wanting to spend more time parenting, the costs are substantial.

Maybe you are willing to pay the cost and feel convicted about it. Good, do it and don't look back.

But if you are in limbo, then pause and mull over these costs.

What's more is that successful women are still very invested in motherhood and both tracks are pretty compatible.

References

  1. Anderson Deborah J., Binder Melissa, Krause Kate. The motherhood wage penalty: Which mothers pay it and why? American Economic Review. 2002;92:354–58.
  2. https://hbr.org/2005/03/off-ramps-and-on-ramps-keeping-talented-women-on-the-road-to-success
  3. McQuillan J, Greil AL, Scheffler KM, Tichenor V. The Importance of Motherhood among Women in the Contemporary United States. Gend Soc. 2008 Aug 1;22(4):477-496.

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