This NYT graphic summarizes key findings from Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz's intriguing study of how taking time off effects the career prospects of various professional groups. It's not surprising that MBAs - especially those who log long hours in finance and consulting - take the biggest career hit. For many the strategy is to front-load their careers, working hard and making boat loads of money when they are relatively young which they can enjoy later on in life. And most people understand that lawyers put in long hours as well. Understandably, the Times' story focuses on the relatively small hit taken by medical doctors.
But what really struck me is the result for PhDs, who suffered a 29 percent average financial penalty for taking time off. This was tied for second with lawyers and nearly double the penalty faced by medical doctors. This stands in contrast to the more popular perception of the inquisitive, free-flowing academic career. But like lawyers, consulting partners and others in so-called "up-or-out" professions, young academics must put in especially long hours early-on to conduct their research, publish their papers, and achieve tenure. Taking time off is a huge risk at this stage of the game (at an age that coincides with child-bearing)- one that extends far beyond the immediate loss of salary.
One thing I have noticed over the past decade or so is that some of the very best PhDs I have come across--not just in social science but in computer science, engineering and other scientific fields--have decided to opt out of academia for careers in everything from startups and consulting to think-tanks and non-profits. A common assumption is that they "did it for the money," but most I've talked with say they simply did not want to endure what it would do to their "life."