Do babies matter to academic careers? It’s a question three researchers have spent a decade answering, and their findings are now available in what may be the most comprehensive look at gender, family and academe ever published. (Spoiler alert: the answer is “yes.”) Inside Higher Ed reports the unfortunate story:
“The book, Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, out this month from Rutgers University Press, includes new studies and builds on existing data about the effects of childbearing and rearing on men’s and women’s careers in higher education, from graduate school to retirement. Written by long-term collaborators Mary Anne Mason, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley; Nicholas Wolfinger, associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah; and Marc Goulden, director of data initiatives at Berkeley, the work also looks at the effects of successful careers in academe on professors’ personal lives. It makes the case for more family-friendly institutional policies, arguing that such initiatives ultimately could save money for colleges by reducing “brain drain,” and includes best practices from real institutions trying to even out the playing field both for mothers and fathers who want better work-life balance.
“In the individual work we’ve done on the topic, we’ve looked at bits and pieces of the story,” said Wolfinger. “Now we have the whole story, soup to nuts.”
“And the story favors men in academe, said Goulden. “Certainly our most important finding has been that family negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, early academic careers. Furthermore, academic women who advance through the faculty ranks have historically paid a considerable price for doing so, in the form of much lower rates of family formation, fertility, and higher rates of family dissolution.” For men, however, the pattern has been either neutral or even net-positive.
“For women in academe, said Mason, “At every stage, there’s a ‘baby penalty.’ In the earlier stages, graduate students have children and drop out or grad students get turned away from the academic profession, in terms of the [lack of family-friendliness] they see around them.” Concerns about time demands in relation to caretaking, and worries that advisers, future employers and peers would take their work less seriously were all reasons female Ph.D. students, more than male, cited for not having a child or being uncertain about having a child in one survey of graduate students in the University of California system. In another survey of postdoctoral fellows in the system, more than 40 percent of women who had children during their fellowships were considering changing their career plans to those outside academic research, compared to 20 percent of childless women with no plans for children.”