Here’s how companies can support women who decide to have kids later in life
PERSPECTIVE | The job market punishes mothers and rewards fathers
In 2010, I began fertility treatments in hopes of starting a family. I had earned a PhD and built a fulfilling career. Two years later, I would co-found Phone2Action.
Like many working women, I had felt pressure to delay motherhood. But, no one told me that each in vitro fertilization treatment would cost $15,000. And no one mentioned that 35 states, including Virginia, where I live, don’t require health insurers to cover IVF.
I was blindsided, and I’d like to spare other women from that experience. Our business culture discourages talking about fertility and provides little to no support to women who choose to start families later in life. Some of these women suffer feelings of regret, loneliness and guilt.
Women increasingly delay childbirth to dedicate their prime years to their careers. It’s time that employers honor those sacrifices with financial support for fertility treatments.
‘Late’ is the new normal
Businesses have not adjusted to the trends driving women to seek fertility treatments. American millennials have pushed marriage and childbirth later than any prior generation according to Pew Research Center. The U.S. fertility rate has hit a new low.
The window between late and too late is narrow, however. One study finds that assisted reproduction technologies (including IVF) see a steep decline in success rates as women age from 35 to 40 years old.
Women already face underrepresentation in leadership positions, a widening funding gap in venture capital, and a wage gap. Motherhood, unfortunately, can create additional obstacles.
The job market punishes mothers and rewards fathers. Gender stereotypes about the male breadwinner persist, even though women represent roughly 47 percent of the workforce.
In 2001, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that mothers in hourly jobs suffered a seven percent wage penalty per child. A 2007 study explored this “motherhood penalty.” Researchers asked participants to evaluate fictional job applicants and found that “evaluators rated mothers as less competent and committed to paid work than nonmothers, and consequently, discriminated against mothers when making hiring and salary decisions.” The evaluators assumed that fathers would be more committed than mothers or single men.
Berkeley professor Mary Ann Mason, who co-wrote a book on the subject, puts it this way: “For men, having children is a career advantage; for women, it is a career killer.”
The right to fertility
The average out-of-pocket cost for IVF is now $23,474 according to FertilityIQ, a platform for fertility treatment data. Most women require 2.3 to 2.7 cycles, so the all-in cost is closer to $50,000. For perspective, the median household income in the U.S. was $57,716 in 2016.
This kind of cost is untenable for most women, so here is what I think companies and women can do about it.
First, whether you lead a company or work for one, fight to make fertility a right. Some employers are listening. Companies like Spotify, Bank of America, Boston Consulting Group, Intel and Facebook currently offer support. At Phone2Action, we offer an annual voucher for fertility treatments, so women or men can choose when and where to use it. Most companies and insurance plans don’t help, and that norm will persist unless we raise our voices.
Second, learn about fertility treatments and options now, even if you’re in your early 20s. You might never need fertility treatments, but many women only start to explore their options when they are already in a race against time. Plan ahead knowing that IVF cycles might cost more than the child’s college education.
Third, support coworkers who are undergoing fertility treatment. Many are afraid to talk about it openly because our culture has a long history of stigmatizing infertility. The taboo won’t go away until we discuss fertility openly.
More than 1 million American children have been born thanks to assisted reproduction techniques. It’s now a mainstream choice and should be treated that way. Let’s give women empathy, respect, and support no matter when or how they choose to start a family. And let’s ask business leaders to do the same.