A raft of research in Britain has documented the effect that taking career breaks has on women's earning power and career development.
Now new research in the United States has explored the same phenomenon, finding that professional women who put careers on hold for family or other reasons can expect to earn 18 per cent less if they return to the workforce.
In business and finance, earnings drop by an average of 28 percent, according to the research by the New York-based Center for Work-Life Policy and sponsored by some of the country's largest companies.
About 44 per cent of the women who exit the workforce do so to gain more family time, with another 23 per cent to pursue a degree or additional training.
However job dissatisfaction is also a factor, particularly for those working in business, banking or finance. Indeed, perhaps the most telling finding is that not one of those who worked in business, banking or finance wanted to return to their old companies.
The research, published in the March issue of the Harvard Business Review, surveyed almost 2,500 women across the United States, the majority of whom hold graduate degrees, professional degrees or undergraduate degrees with high honours.
Writing in the Financial Times today, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, director of the Hidden Brain Drain taskforce, says that the findings "underscore the frustration of talented women sidelined by the rigidity of career paths."
With labour markets tightening and the workforce ageing, companies need to act urgently to retain highly qualified women, she says.