Each issue of The Regional Economist, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, features the section “Ask an Economist,” in which one of the Bank’s economists answers a question. The answer below was provided by Christian Zimmermann, economist and assistant vice president of research information services.
The research that I have conducted with Matthias Krapf and Heinrich Ursprung indicates that children do lead to lower productivity by their parents at work when the children are young.1 However, mothers and fathers make up for this lost productivity elsewhere during their careers—either before they have children or after the children are old enough to take care of themselves.
It's important to know that this research was conducted on academic economists only. We used family status data from a survey of 10,000 research economists matched to their publication records through the RePEc platform (Research Papers in Economics). This is unique in that no other study has managed to get that large of a sample of highly qualified workers, as the vast majority of the economists registered with RePEc hold Ph.D.s.
Researchers are a suitable profession for this sort of study because well-established and generally accepted measures of productivity are available, whereas for most other highly skilled professionals, such as managers, engineers and surgeons, comparable productivity measures are not available or recorded.
1 Krapf, Matthias; Ursprung, Heinrich W.; and Zimmermann, Christian. "Parenthood and Productivity of Highly Skilled Labor: Evidence from the Groves of Academe," Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Working Paper 2014-001A.