Ask an Economist: Does having children lower the productivity of professionals at work?

Christian Zimmerman

Christian Zimmermann is an economist and assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, where he started working in 2011 after a career in academia. While his research touches on an eclectic set of issues in macroeconomics, he is also involved in the economic information offerings of the St. Louis Fed, such as the FRED and RePEc families of websites. He loves traveling to deserted places, such as Iceland.

For more on his research, see

Q. Does having children lower the productivity of professionals at work?

A.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. 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.


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. See



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