Paul Graham: don’t hire anyone with children

From “Having Kids,” by Paul Graham:

Partly, and I won’t deny it, this is because of serious chemical changes that happened almost instantly when our first child was born. It was like someone flipped a switch. I suddenly felt protective not just toward our child, but toward all children.

You will have chunks of time to work. But you can’t let work spill promiscuously through your whole life, like I used to before I had kids. You’re going to have to work at the same time every day, whether inspiration is flowing or not, and there are going to be times when you have to stop, even if it is.

I’ve been able to adapt to working this way. Work, like love, finds a way. If there are only certain times it can happen, it happens at those times. So while I don’t get as much done as before I had kids, I get enough done.

I hate to say this, because being ambitious has always been a part of my identity, but having kids may make one less ambitious. … The fact is, once you have kids, you’re probably going to care more about them than you do about yourself. And attention is a zero-sum game. Only one idea at a time can be the top idea in your mind. Once you have kids, it will often be your kids, and that means it will less often be some project you’re working on.

In other words, if you’re an employer and want to hire someone ambitious and productive whose first priority is the company’s project… recruit from among the childless and, for long-term employer-employee happiness, the infertile.

Related (tough to find articles comparing productivity of childless men versus fathers, but motherhood is intensively studied):

18 thoughts on “Paul Graham: don’t hire anyone with children

  1. It used to be that employers favored “Family Men” with the idea that they favored stability and really needed the money!

    • Yes, but that was probably because back then, productivity time was limited to 9-to-5 and most workers didn’t have to constantly upgrade their skill set every 3 years. Now with email, whatsapp on the cell phone, and the expectation of employers that the employees to be “always on” , i.e. working on weekends and nights (wasn’t all this technology supposed to make our lives easier?), the stable family man is not productive enough. With women in the work force, the supply of labor increased – particularly the single and childless. Economics and politics and culture are making marriage with family less and less attractive…

  2. Avoiding hiring people because they’re parents is Family Responsibilities Discrimination, and it’s illegal, as is asking the kinds of interview questions to gather that kind of information (‘Do you have kids?’). Evaluating candidates on this one dimension is a pretty shallow judgement anyway. Maybe it would be better just to be up front about the the hours and commitment the job is likely to entail, and ask them if they are able to meet those expectations.

  3. lol, that’s absolutely short-sighted.
    employees (maybe singles) without a steady relationships have also their ups and downs. we’re all humans.
    Furthermore, when you’re hire only childless employees, the risk of employees who become a parent and than do a parental leave is much higher.

    • Hah! I’m still working so I think I have to take the Fifth Amendment here. But when I was founder and CEO of a software startup, I worked at least 6 days/week, 12 hours/day. I could not do that now and be fair to the kids and to Senior Management. A lot of my work was software design, software development, and software documentation. At least in those areas, I don’t think it is possible to say “With increased age and the wisdom that comes from building LEGO with children and wiping up the remains of Happy Meals from a minivan, I could be way more efficient now on a per-hour basis.”

  4. How stupid is this? This article creates bias that would lead VC’s to inefficient capital allocation. I can think of so many more cases of people who were motivated — not pacified — by starting families. I’d point out this is a relative data point in a pattern where prominent Silicon Valley VC’s create highly influential, incorrect market assumptions. For example, remember how we’re only to invest in 19 year old college drop outs only to later realize the data shows the most successful entrepreneurs are in their 50’s — or something like that. The influence of this article ultimately directs funding inefficiently, which is plainly a disservice to investors and entrepreneurs. More likely, PG is just a biased investor inside a highly concentrated capital geography. Didn’t YC just leave China last week?

    • “How stupid is this? This article creates bias that would lead VC’s to inefficient capital allocation.”

      How stupid are you to believe VC’s know how to allocate capital efficiently?

      Most VC’s are morons, just ask Phil Greenspun…

    • James(2): “morons” is a strong word! You do have a point in that VCs on average underperform an investment in the S&P 500 that takes 10 seconds of effort to make and that costs 0.1% in fees. But, on the other hand, so do most of the smart people on Wall Street.

    • @philg most of the “smart” people on Wall Street fall into 1 of 2 categories:

      1. The high IQ Intellectual-Yet-Idiot types with insane beliefs – i.e. economics is a science, markets are perfectly efficient, etc. (this group makes up the vast majority)


      2. Street smart types (see what I did there?) who recognize money management is a never ending game of musical chairs – the trick is to control the music or the chairs.

  5. I think there are two points to make here:
    1. Paul is speaking from his own experience. I would argue, having kids after one has already made one’s fortune IS probably a big demotivating influence.
    2. My experience is that there’s nobody who works smarter, harder and with more efficiency than a Dad with kids who has to put food on the table or pay for College educations. Honestly, there’s just no comparison. Young people may hang around the office more, but Dads simply work HARDER. Probably 5 to 1 in terms of real, productive output.

  6. Do you remember being interviewed by his wife Jessica Livingston for her book Founders At Work?

  7. Effects of parenthood on employed work 1992–1993, USA
    In paid employment (%) Hours of work/week (h)
    Women – no children 78 39.2
    Women – with children 68 34.6
    Men – no children 88 46.4
    Men – with children 92 47.3
    Expressed as mean averages.

    G. Kaufman and P. Uhlenberg, The influence of parenthood on the work effort of married men and women, Soc Forces 78 (2000), pp. 931–949.

  8. I would agree with his assessment in terms of hours per week. But, having 3 children taught me several things. I am far more efficient with my time than I was at 23 or 24. I will tell my boss “no” to stupid unproductive projects than I did at 24. At 24, I volunteered for them. At 55, I have all the kids out of the house, but now we take care of 2 older relatives, who are slowly dying. Work is more a thing to own and master now, rather than it owning and mastering me.

  9. You need to separate the men from the women for this analysis. And Paul Graham is probably in a separate category, as I assume he made his fortune before having kids.

  10. Presidential candidate Bloomberg allegedly responded to multiple executives announcing their pregnant status with “kill it”.

  11. A childless man/woman may leave the company just because he/she doesn’t like the style of the closestool. But the other man/woman may think about more and want to change the style of the closestool because he/she wants to stay longer and longer for theirs children.

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