Childless women are the most productive staff of all, study finds

An investigation into the impact of having children on the productivity of male and female lawyers has found that childless women get the most work done – more than childless male lawyers and lawyers of either gender who have children.

Jean Wallace and Marisa Young studied how many hours 670 lawyers in Alberta, Canada, had billed their clients in the past year. As well as identifying the superior productivity of childless women, they also found that having children impacts the productivity of men and women in different ways.

Male lawyers with children were actually more productive than their childless male counterparts. This is consistent with the dominant cultural view of men as breadwinners, such that those with greater family responsibilities put in more hours to earn more money. By contrast, female lawyers with children were less productive than their childless female colleagues.

Further analysis showed that female lawyers with children usually had to juggle professional and domestic responsibilities because they tended to be married to a partner who also worked. On the other hand, male lawyers with children were likely to have a partner who did not work, and who was therefore able to take responsibility for domestic duties.

Wallace and Young said another unexpected finding was that family-friendly organisational work practices had a negative effect on the productivity of male staff but not female staff. Moreover, the sexes used the benefit of flexible hours differently – professional fathers spent the time pursuing leisure activities, whereas for professional mothers this time was spent largely on domestic duties. It seems the old adage ‘a woman’s work is never done’ still rings true in the twenty-first century.

WALLACE, J., YOUNG, M. (2008). Parenthood and productivity: A study of demands, resources and family-friendly firms. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 72(1), 110-122. DOI: 10.1016/j.jvb.2007.11.002

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

8 thoughts on “Childless women are the most productive staff of all, study finds”

  1. Again I see a report that doesn’t delve below one explanation for a correlation. For example, is it assumed that people who choose to have children are otherwise identical to those who don’t?

  2. What a timely topic.I just saw a law review article which posits the query: would employers be better off if men took equal responsibility for domestic duties?Selmi, Michael L., “The Work-Family Conflict: An Essay on Employers, Men and Responsibility” . University of St. Thomas Law Journal, 2008(Click my ID to see the article and post)

  3. As often, a decent study (yes, it is understandable to look at only one variable at a time) but a very dubious headline. Although defined in the article, many people will not think of productivity in those terms. Title maybe should have said that “this quadrant of people work the most hours”.

  4. Well, rnb, it’s a big no-duh to this childFREE woman that I’m in the most productive group. Maybe it’s because I’m not regularly playing the “kid card” to go watch Snotleigh and Bratleigh play soccer or dance in a ballet, or calling in sick every time one of them has a sniffly-poo. Nice attempt to imply that we just put in more “face time,” but usually when we’re in the office, we’re <>working<> — not standing around with the other hens, clucking about our <>cheeeldrunnn<> and how <>speeeeeshulll<> they are.

  5. I think that the interpretations drawn from this research are very inappropriate. In fact I think they are downright dangerous, in particular with regard to the child-friendliness of firms. Presumably a large amount of female lawyers’ “productivity” goes into the children during the time they spend at home rather than at work. This type of “productivity” is essential in providing the basis for each of these children’s later “productivity”. If this were taken into account, I wouldn’t be surprised if you would find that women with children are in fact more “productive” than the rest of us!

  6. Word!

    One needs to be careful with collecting and interpreting findings such as these.

    Is a productive worker a happier person in the rest of their life?

  7. Very good point!

    I hope people read the article and your comment, and don't take the headline at face value.

Comments are closed.