Do kids make you more productive?

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Several alert readers sent me KJ Dell’Antonia’s Motherlode post on a study finding that academic economists with 2+ children were more productive than those without kids. There was a productivity hit when the kids were little, but overall productivity, as measured in journal publications, stayed elevated despite those dips. Women with kids, incidentally, were the most productive of all.

By extrapolation (a dangerous, but fun game!) my four kids should launch me into the ranks of the uber-productive in future years, even without my professional interest in the topic. So is it true?

Humans like to look at facts and create stories, whether the stories are justified or not. There are obvious caveats. Academic economists may not be representative of other professions. Perhaps the sort of people who assume they’ll be able to combine a career and a family are naturally more productive anyway. People who know they’ll struggle with coming up with ideas and setting long-term deadlines and executing against them may suspect that having children won’t make any of that easier for them. So they choose one or the other.

Nonetheless, this is an appealing story, that efficiency gains forged in the crucible of maintaining a career while most non-working hours are spent caring for small kids will ultimately make you a machine, much like training at altitude means a runner will fly at sea level.

I can see in my own life that I’m in the dip right now. I’m working fewer hours than I have in the past, and many of these hours are interrupted. On the other hand, when I sit down to crank something out, I can really crank it. One afternoon recorded on my time log showed me getting back from something at 3:30, and cranking out two 800 word articles by 5:30. At that rate, two uninterrupted 50-hour weeks would allow me to crank out an 80,000 word book!

Of course, that’s not quite how it works. But I don’t think it’s crazy to assume that when I get more mental space, there will be some payoff from surviving the tight mental conditions I’m dealing with now. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Do you think kids have made you more productive? Less productive? Over what time horizon?

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