How To Limit The Post-Maternity Leave Salary Cut

url-1It’s (depressing) conventional wisdom that taking time off after you have a baby hurts your income long into the future. It may sound pleasant to duck out of the workforce for a couple of years while your kids are infants and toddlers, but the penalties are severe.  Sylvia Ann Hewlett‘s research, for example, shows that when women take three or more years away from the workforce, they lose a shocking 37% of their income. But new data this week suggests there’s a way to at least lessen the effect of taking a long maternity leave.

Yesterday the Census Bureau released new numbers on men’s and women’s earnings over time. Not surprisingly, men and women work have pretty similar work histories until their mid-twenties. At age 25, the average man has worked just about six month more than the average woman. After that, however, women start to lag behind. By age 40, the average man has about three more years of work experience than the average woman the same age.

The culprit: Babies! Itty-bitty, adorable babies. As the Wall Street Journal summarizes the research, three years of absence from the office adds up. Census researchers found that women who took at least six months off work after having a baby were earning about 18% less that women with more consistent work histories after a decade on the job. Women with those employment gaps earned a whopping 36% less than men of the same age.

It’s not hopeless, however. Women who return to the same job do significantly better than those who start a whole new gig. In fact, women who took significant time away from a job they’d held for 7 to 9 years earned almost as much as women who held the same job without taking time away. If you want to take significant time away from the workplace after having a child, in other words, you’re best off if you can return to the same job.

Nice work if you can get it.

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