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That Third Kid Will Derail Your Career

Any parent can tell you that after the birth of that first child, work simultaneously becomes a whole lot easier and a whole lot harder. Easier, because no matter how bad things get at work, the chances of someone screaming, yelling and crying at you for hours on end--as a baby with colic can easily do--are pretty slim. But work also gets harder after that first kid because suddenly, there's a whole lot less time to do it, and you're a whole lot more tired.

A new study by Anna Zhou and Catherine Brogan, PhD candidates at the University of New South Wales, shows that with three kids, the "harder" suddenly outweighs the "easier." Women with three or more children are much more likely than their peers with smaller families to suffer severe career setbacks or to stop working outside the home altogether, according to the study. The study was presented to the Australian Social Policy Conference at the University of New South Wales.

The study of 13,000 Australian women found that

  • Three kids are just too much. Women with three or more children are much more likely to be "unemployed" than women with two children. Some 68 percent of women with two children work outside the home, compared to 55 percent with three or more children.
  • When the kids are younger, very few moms with three kids manage to work outside the home. This can't be too shocking: When the researchers looked at moms who were under 30, only 21% of those with three kids were working outside the home, compared to 41% of their peers with two kids.
  • Even when the kids get older, a wide gap remains. The researchers says a 10-percentage point gap remains even as the kids grow up. Theoretically, more moms could go back to work then, but it doesn't seem to happen.
Writes Zhu:

When all else is equal-- that is, when you take two women with the same aspirations and career plans, it is the addition of an extra child that determines the lower employment rates for mothers of larger families-- This suggests family size has long-term consequences for women, as time out of the workforce leads not only to declining or outdated skills, but, often, to a loss of confidence.

The Australian findings are particularly interesting because Australia is one of the few more-developed countries where women tend to go back to work full-time, rather than part-time, after the birth of their children. The U.S. is another.

Do you think it's possible to manage three kids and a high-powered career? How?


Incredibly adorable image courtesy flickr user Dan Bock

Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor, and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at

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