Having Children Has Negatively Impacted One-Third of Women’s Careers

At the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, rolling back abortion rights in nearly half of states.

Many scholars argue that abortion access was an important factor for women entering the work force in much greater numbers in the 1970s. It’s also been argued that women who are able to access legal abortion and delay motherhood are more likely to pursue higher degrees, spend more time in the work force, and earn more.

For a multitude of reasons, having children, whether planned or unplanned, can create challenges for women who are pursuing or aspire to pursue a career.

In July, ResumeBuilder.com surveyed 1,251 women to better understand their beliefs around how having children impacts women’s careers as well as what their own personal experience has been.

Key findings:

  • 3 in 10 women believe having children has a negative impact on women’s careers
  • 33% of women who have children and/or are currently pregnant say having children has had a negative impact on their own career
  • Women who are younger, higher earners, more educated, and identify as pro-choice are more likely than their counterparts to say having children negatively impacts women’s careers and has negatively impacted their own career
  • 33% of women believe they were discriminated against by an employer due to being pregnant
  • 52% of women who are expecting say their current employer’s parental leave policy is inadequate or nonexistent

3 in 10 of women say having children negatively impacts women’s careers

Thirty percent of women, including those who do not have children of their own and are not currently expecting, hold the belief that having children has a negative impact on a woman’s career.

Four percent say having a child has a ‘very negative effect,’ while 26% say it has a ‘negative effect.’

On the other hand, 11% say it has a ‘very positive effect,’ and 19% say it has a ‘positive effect.’ The plurality of women (41%) say it has neither a positive nor negative effect.

Pro-choice women who support legal abortion in all or most cases are more likely to say having a child has a negative impact than women who identify as pro-life and do not support legal abortion in all or most cases (37% vs. 20%).

Women who have achieved a higher level of education, earn more money, and are younger are also more likely to believe having children adversely affects women’s careers.

One-third of women say having children had a negative impact on their own career

For women who have children or are currently expecting their first child, 33% ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ with the statement: Having children has had a negative effect overall on my career. For women who are currently expecting their first child, this number jumps to 65%.

Twenty-eight percent of pro-life women say their careers were negatively impacted by having children. But perhaps that isn’t a bad thing to some. One pro-life respondent wrote in that, “A woman shouldn’t have a career at all if she has children. Her children should be her top priority.”

Younger, more educated, and higher earning women are more likely to say having children has had a negative impact on their own careers as well as those who support abortion in all or most cases.

Ellis Fitch, co-founder of Edify Content, notes that one of the challenges with having children is that it limits the amount of time she’s able to spend growing her business and career.

“Having a kid is a joy, but it makes career progression very difficult. Even working for myself, I’m unable to dedicate the same hours as my business partner is because I have to be flexible for my daughter. I’m on deck as a full-time entrepreneur and full-time mom.”

Work-life balance creates challenges for women

Thirty-seven percent of women who are currently working say achieving a good work-life balance is ‘very difficult’ or ‘somewhat difficult.’ Women with children are more likely to say they struggle with work-life balance, with 39% saying it’s difficult to achieve compared to 35% of women without children.

Licensed therapist Alicia Johnson explains that being a working mother puts a lot of pressure on women.

“Women who work full-time often still are in charge of running the home, which includes a multitude of mental and physical tasks like shopping, cooking, cleaning, planning events and schedules, and parenting,” she says.

“All of this pressure often has working moms feeling anxious, guilty, and depressed. They feel like they are bad at their jobs because they’re thinking about home, and they feel like awful mothers because they spend time at work. They end up feeling defeated no matter what they choose.”

When we asked why, if at all, they believe having children has a negative effect on a woman’s career, the top answer chosen by 59% of women was that ‘work-life balance is difficult.’

Additional reasons include employers not providing enough flexibility (42%), family-leave policies being insufficient (37%), and career advancement being more challenging (33%).

33% of women believe they were discriminated against by an employer due to being pregnant

One-third of women say they were definitely or likely discriminated against by an employer for being pregnant.

Younger women are more likely to say they’ve faced pregnancy discrimination. Particularly those who are 18-24. Sixty-one percent of this age group say they were discriminated against. This is compared to 37% of 25-34 year olds, 36% of 34-44 year olds, 29% of 24-54 year olds, and 18% of women over 54.

Of women who say they were discriminated against by an employer, 41% say they were rejected for a job, 36% delayed a promotion, and 32% denied a promotion. Women also faced being asked to pay a higher insurance deductible, given a salary cut, fired, and demoted.

As Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, health care lawyer and parental leave expert, explains, biases against mothers in the workplace are rampant.

“As a society we are programmed, almost by default, to think that a woman cannot possibly be fully committed to her career once she becomes a mother,” she says.

“Discrimination often happens because we automatically assign the mother the role of primary caregiver, and managers just assume once the baby comes the woman won’t want to take on certain tasks or be challenged. These assumptions are highly damaging. They take the mother out of the decision-making process about her own career and deny her advancement opportunities.”

Half of pregnant women say their current employers parental leave policy is inadequate or nonexistent

One of the challenges for mother’s in the U.S. is that there is no guaranteed paid parental leave. Although nine states mandate some paid parental leave, federal law only guarantees new parents six weeks of unpaid time off and about 44% of U.S. workers don’t even qualify for this benefit.

Based on our survey, 44% of women with children did not take maternity leave. Of the women who did, 22% were given less than 4 weeks of leave by their employer. Six percent received no parental leave benefit, and 2% received less than one week.

More than half of women who are currently expecting (52%) say their current employer’s parental leave policy is inadequate (32%) or nonexistent (20%).

One-third of women will be alloted less than 4 weeks of maternity leave, 30% given 4-7 weeks, and just 28% 8 weeks or more. Eight percent are currently unsure about how many weeks they receive.

Despite some having policies that do offer more time off, 4% of women will take no maternity leave, 2% will take less than a week, 10% 2-3 weeks, and 38% 4-7 weeks. Factors such as not receiving their full salary for the allotted time may play a role here.

Eighteen percent of women will not be paid their full salary for any of their time off, 4% less than one week, 28% 2-3 weeks, 26% 4-7 weeks, and 22% more than 8 weeks.

When it comes to paternity leave,18% of partner’s plan to take less than one week, 28% will take 2-3 weeks, 28% 4-7 weeks, and 16% will take more than 8 weeks.

Methodology

All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by ResumeBuilder.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,251 women were surveyed.

This survey was conducted on July 11, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email Content Marketing Manager Julia Morrissey at [email protected]