Gender-Differentiating Effects of Parenthood on Income among High-Potential Individuals in the Context of Other Valued Aspects of Life
Women in the United States earn 81.5 cents for every dollar earned by men. While known determinants of this discrepancy have been identified (including occupations chosen and preferences for time allocation) appreciable variance remains to be explained to fully account for this disparity. One determinant receiving distinct attention recently is parenthood. This life-changing event is frequently associated with income increases for men and, conversely, decreases for women. An extensive literature has emerged to document this phenomenon—labeled by some as the “Fatherhood Bonus” and “Motherhood Penalty”—and this has attracted the popular press. Moreover, because a disordinal interaction among the genders is hypothesized to be particularly pronounced for high-income employees, high-potential populations have been of special interest in studying this phenomenon. In this study, I investigate the income trajectories of both parents and non-parents across a series of three cohorts of intellectually precocious youth identified at age 12 and longitudinally tracked until age 50 (n = 1,952). However, in addition to examining income variations as a function of parenthood, I also assess other valued aspects of life beyond income including psychological well-being, relationship satisfaction, and life satisfaction. Results suggest that highly able parents do experience characteristic income changes as a function of parenthood; however, these gender differences do not appear to covary negatively with other valued aspects of life. The women and men studied appeared satisfied with their lives and found them to be highly meaningful. These findings were constructively replicated with an independent cohort of 522 top STEM graduate students (49% women), identified as first- or second-year graduate students in 1992 and longitudinally tracked for 25 years. When conspicuous gender differences emerge in a highly valued life outcomes, it is informative to simultaneously assess how these changes covary with other salient aspects of life. Doing so provides a richer and more textured portrait of the highly variegated ways in which meaningful and satisfying lives are created.