Here's an idea for what women should do if they’re unemployed: Have a baby. Your first reaction is probably that this is a throwback to the 1950s. But it's not. This is the most up-to-date career advice you're going to get for dealing with a down-in-the-dumps job market.
Here's why a stint of unemployment is a great time to have a baby:
1) The escapism that people engage in during a bad economy is pathetic.
First-choice escape from reality: Grad school,which is almost always a waste of time and money. There is a huge uptick in the number of grad school applications during a recession, but grad school is a lame way to dodge a recession. In a recession, people fear they're wasting time. And they want to continue developing skills even though they are not employed. The problem is that grad school costs money, and in most cases, it does not make you more valuable in the workforce. There are very few available jobs that require a graduate degree. And if you pay for the degree and don't use it, you start to look like a rudderless ship to employers. (Also please don't tell me you are in grad school because you love to learn. You don't need to get a degree to learn. Do it at home, after work.)
Second-choice escape from reality: Travel, which is not as valuable to your personal development as holding down a job. Yes, you see new things, and try new things. But you've been doing that your whole life. The hardest thing to do in adult life is (in this order): raise kids, stay married, and hunt for a job. You can get away with not doing the first two. But everyone needs to work. So you may as well get good at doing it. Travel is a procrastination method with quickly diminishing returns.
2) For women, a baby always decreases relative earning power.
This data should surprise no one; it's not because women with babies don't work hard. It's because there is a basic difference between having work at the top of your mind and having baby and work at the top of your mind. You can tell me about the exceptions all night long, but the bottom line is that men and women with the same education and the same work experience earn roughly the same salary until kids enter the picture. Then women voluntarily downshift. Some downshift a lot – like dropping out – and some downshift just a little – like turning down extra travel because of cumulative sleep deprivation. Whatever the reason, unemployment early in a career hurts women more than men.
Most women will take some time out of the workforce to have children. In general, women move in and out of the workforce more often than men, which accounts, in a large part, for the long-term decreased earning power of women. Unemployment may be the only interruption for men, and, in general, men have less of a pull than women do to leave the workforce for children. I am not passing judgment here. It’s just statistical fact. So if women have a child during their stint unemployed, then they lessen the hit to their earning power.
3) The biological clock trumps career aspirations.
Look at the numbers and it becomes clear that women are better off having a baby than struggling to figure out what to do with their lives. Look. You have until you are 35 to have kids. After that, your eggs go downhill fast. Your chance of having a baby with compromised health increases tenfold after age 35. In order to have two kids before age 35, you need to start when you’re about 30. If you are unemployed at age 27, and struggling to establish yourself, why bother? You’ll establish yourself and then mess everything up by getting pregnant. Just get pregnant now, and figure out the career later.
This reminds me of the advice someone gave me about losing the baby weight after my first son. People told me, wait for the second so you don’t have to lose the weight twice. The same is true of careers. Figure out your professional identity after the kids, so you don’t have to struggle through unemployment twice.
Many people will tell me that I’m a flat-out lunatic for this advice. But here’s something to consider: It is so clear that women need to manage their career choices differently than men because of their biological constraints, that Harvard and Wharton accept women into MBA programs at a younger age than men.
Men and women are not identical. So they need to manage kids differently, and MBAs differently and unemployment differently. So here’s to a productive (and fertile) economic slump for all!