NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 22, 2005

Women who delay motherhood in favor of working an additional year can increase their earnings by 10 percent per year of postponement, according to a study by economist Amalia Miller at the University of Virginia.

Miller found:

  • On average, a woman in her 20s will increase her lifetime earnings by 10 percent if she delays the birth of her first child by a year.
  • Part of that is because she'll earn higher wages ? about 3 percent higher -- for the rest of her life; the rest is because she'll work longer hours.
  • For college-educated women, the effects are even bigger; for professional women, the effects are bigger yet -- the wage hike is not 3 percent, but 4.7 percent.

So, if you have your first child at 24 instead of 25, you're giving up 10 percent of your lifetime earnings. The wage hit comes in two parts:

  • There's an immediate drop followed by a slower rate of growth -- up to the day you retire.
  • So a 34-year-old woman with a 10-year-old child will (again, on average) get smaller percentage raises on a smaller base salary than an otherwise identical woman with a 9-year-old.
  • Each year of delayed childbirth compounds these benefits, at least for women in their 20s.

Once you're in your 30s, there's far less reward for continued delay. Surprisingly, it appears that none of these effects is mitigated by the passage of family-leave laws, notes Miller.

Sources: Steven Landsburg, "Motherhood Will Cost You," Dallas Morning News, December 18, 2005; Amalia R. Miller, "The Effects of Motherhood Timing on Career Path," University of Virginia, July 2005.


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