9 scientific ways having a child influences your success

How to Be a Good Role Model for Your Kids
How to Be a Good Role Model for Your Kids

If you're looking for a straight-forward answer to the question of how having a kid will impact your success, you'll be sorry to hear that it doesn't exist.

Sure, your decision to become a parent could make your life utterly miserable and send your career careening into the abyss — then again, it could be the most fulfilling decision you've ever made and set you up to take on the world.

Simply put, it's complicated — and in many ways, too subjective — and I doubt we'll ever have a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all answer.

But hopefully these studies will begin to unpack the question a little and help us better understand the many factors at play.

Parents, especially mothers, face bias in the workplace.

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"Motherhood triggers assumptions that women are less competent and less committed to their careers," reads a recent report out of LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company. "As a result, they are held to higher standards and presented with fewer opportunities."

The report points to a study out of Cornell that found employers tended to discriminate against mothers.

As part of the study, researchers sent employers fake, almost identical résumés with one major difference: some résumés indicated that the job applicant was part of a parent-teacher association.

While male job candidates whose résumés mentioned the parent-teacher association were called back more often than men whose résumés didn't, women who alluded to parenthood in this way were half as likely to get called back than women who didn't.

The study participants also rated mothers as the least desirable job candidates and deemed them less competent and committed than women without children or men. At the same time, applicants who were fathers were rated significantly more committed to their job than non-fathers and were allowed to be late to work significantly more times than non-fathers.

Having a child can help you earn more money — if you're a father.


"For most men the fact of fatherhood results in a wage bonus; for most women motherhood results in a wage penalty," research group Third Way's president Jonathan Cowan and resident scholar Dr. Elaine C. Kamarck write about "The Fatherhood Bonus and The Motherhood Penalty: Parenthood and the Gender Gap in Pay."

In the academic paper, author Michelle J. Budig, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, writes that, "While the gender pay gap has been decreasing, the pay gap related to parenthood is increasing."

In her 15 years of research on the topic, Budig found that, on average, men earn 6% more when they have and live with a child, while women earn 4% less for every child they have.

Sadly, "the women who least can afford it, pay the largest proportionate penalty for motherhood," as high-income men see the biggest pay raise for having children while low-income women see the biggest dip.

"A lot of these effects really are very much due to a cultural bias against mothers," Correll tells The New York Times.

The New York Times notes that in her previous work, Budig found that dad's taking more parental leave mitigates the motherhood penalty, as evidenced by countries like Sweden that incentivize fathers to take paid leave and have a smaller pay gap.

Parents tend to be more productive.


Contrary to the popular belief that parents, who often have more responsibilities than childless workers, are more likely to be distracted at work, research suggests that parents may in fact be more productive than their childless counterparts.

After analyzing the amount of research published by more than 10,000 academic economists, researchers commissioned by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that, over the course of a 30-year career, mothers are generally more productive than childless women, with mothers of at least two children being the most productive, while fathers of at least two children are more productive than fathers of one child and childless men.

This uptick in productivity takes several years to take effect, however, as both moms and dads initially see lower levels of productivity after having children.

Parents often develop skills and traits that make them better employees.

Sebastiaan ter Burg/Flickr

When researchers out of Clark University and the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina, studied how managers' commitments to children affected their work performance, they concluded that being a committed parent can actually improve a manager's performance because child-rearing develops skills that are also useful at work.

The researchers suggest that raising a family helps develop skills like negotiating, compromising, conflict resolution, patience, and multitasking, and that family experiences provide managers with positive feelings that carry over to the workplace and facilitate performance.

Ann Crittenden, author of "If You've Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything," would seem to agree. As she writes in her book, "Anyone who has learned how to comfort a troublesome toddler, soothe the feelings of a sullen teenager, or manage the complex challenges of a fractious household can just as readily smooth the boss's ruffled feathers, handle crises, juggle several urgent matters at once, motivate the team, and survive the most Byzantine office intrigues."

Some parents have more ambition.

WOCinTech Chat/flickr

There's a common misconception that women who start families are subsequently less ambitious in their careers. But as LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company found after surveying 118 companies and nearly 30,000 employees, mothers are actually 15% more interested in becoming a top executive than women without children.

In fact, both mothers and fathers are more likely to say they want to be promoted and become a top executive than non-parents.

Those parents who said they weren't interested in pursuing the C suite overwhelmingly cited balancing work and family as their top reason. So the issue seems to be more about a lack of resources than a lack of ambition.

Friendships inevitably change after the birth of a child.

Flickr / Serge Melki

Discussions of success often come down to career advancement and money, but other important factors like our interpersonal relationships play a vital role in our well-being.

When Child magazine surveyed about 1,000 parents, almost half of the dads and moms surveyed said they had fewer friends after their children were born.

And while 69% of women and 67% of men felt satisfied with their friendships before having kids, only 54% of women and 57% of men said they felt that way afterward.

One factor at play could be time. Before they had kids, women spent 14 hours a week with friends, while men spent and average of 16 hours a week with friends. After kids, those numbers dropped to five hours with friends for women and six hours for men.

Another factor is the inevitable shift in what people want to get out of their friendships. For example, almost all the women surveyed said they depended on their friends for having fun before they had kids — that number dropped to half once they had a family. A majority of the women surveyed said they felt that having friends who are good listeners became more significant after having kids.

Marriages tend to suffer after the birth of a child.


In a meta-analytic review of previous studies, researchers concluded that parenthood tends to have a negative effect on marital satisfaction because of the conflicts that arise from reorganizing roles in the marriage and the parents' restriction of freedom.

The study also indicated that the more children there are in the family, the lower the parents' marital satisfaction.

The difference in marital satisfaction was most pronounced among mothers of infants, while for men, the effect remained similar across ages of children.

And parents in high socioeconomic groups, of younger ages, and in who have given birth in more recent years tend to see the most negative effects on their marriage.

Parents tend to be less healthy than non-parents.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

John Dick, founder of CivicScience, a polling platform that cataloged more than 1 million responses to its "Parental Status" poll, writes on Quartz that non-parents tend to lead healthier lifestyles than parents.

According to the poll results Dick shared, non-parents are 75% more likely than parents to report an average of more than eight hours of sleep each night, while parents are 29% more likely to report less than six hours of sleep per night. Unsurprisingly, parents are 28% more likely to say they drink coffee "every day without fail" than non-parents.

Non-parents are also 73% more likely than parents to say they "never" eat at fast food restaurants and 38% more likely to exercise at a gym once a week or more; while parents are 17% more likely to say they never exercise, 10% more likely to consider themselves overweight, and 54% more likely to smoke cigarettes every day, Dick reveals.

Having a child greatly impacts a parent's happiness.


A lot of people measure success by how happy they are, and numerous studies show that having kids plays a big role in this.

As happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky explains in Time, some studies indicate that parents are happier than non-parents, whereas others suggest the reverse — it really comes down to the parent and the child.

Her exhaustive analysis of various research revealed, for example:

- Young parents and parents with small children tend to be particularly unhappy.

- Fathers, married parents, and empty nesters tend to report especially high life satisfaction, happiness, or meaning.

She notes, however, that "all types of parents reported having more meaning in life than did their childless counterparts, suggesting that the rewards of parenting may be more ineffable than the daily highs (or lows)."

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