SALT LAKE CITY — Girls are told to stay in school, to dream big, to study the sciences and aim for whatever niche interests them. But should a female scholar hope to raise a family and pursue a tenure-track teaching position, she may encounter a culture clash.
It's harder for women to have both family and tenure, researchers say. By the time she gets to graduate school, a winnowing process that favors men and single, childless women begins, according to scholars from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Utah. Their book, "Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower," uses more than a decade of research to show that family formation has unequal impact on the lives of men and women pursuing academic careers.
"This is a well-known set of challenges that women face," said Nicholas H. Wolfinger, associate professor of family and consumer studies and adjunct associate professor of sociology at Utah. "We have long known that women have trouble getting ahead as professors, and about two-thirds of the tenured-track faculty members are men."
While women earn more than half of graduate degrees, it's not reflected in academic careers. The traditional explanation has been discrimination, he said. Evidence, though, suggests that discrimination has only modest impact. Rather, the deck stacks against women starting in graduate school if they want to have families. Research also shows each child a woman has incrementally decreases her pay as an academic.
One of the authors, Mary Ann Mason, previously wrote a book called "Mothers on the Fast Track" that documented similar issues in the corporate world, where women who have children tend to fall behind women who don't and behind men. The look at academia, she said, clearly shows with data how women are losing ground. Women in the sciences, including the social sciences, suffer setbacks if they have young children.
The book also points out what they call a "professor penalty," because women faculty are less likely to have children than women with advance degrees who work outside academia. Twelve years after getting a doctorate, 70 percent of tenured men are married with kids, compared to 44 percent of tenured women. In the past, women were more likely to wait until they had tenure to have children. But training to get the first job and enter the higher-education teaching track takes longer than it used to. It's risky for a woman to leave a tenure track and hope to get back.
"We put a great deal of national time and effort and money into promoting career equity for women ... yet they are slipping out of the pipeline in fairly large numbers compared to men. Clearly, family is causing that slippage," said Mason, professor of the Graduate School UC Berkeley and faculty co-director of the Earl Warren Institute for Law and Social Policy.
The book's authors, who also include Marc Goulden from UC Berkeley, point to timing as a huge issue. The years when a woman is most likely to be making graduate school and post-graduate decisions and advancement is also prime time for starting families. Women who choose childbearing in those "make or break" years fall behind in a "system that makes it difficult to do both family and career," Mason said. Those who remain in higher education on that track tend to have fewer children and are less often married than male professors. Unmarried women with no kids get tenure track jobs more than wives, mothers or single, unmarried men.
It's not as simple, either, as picking whether to have a career or family, she noted. "Women are increasingly breadwinners in this country." In 35 percent of families, mom is single and the sole breadwinner; 20 percent of the time, a woman is the primary wage earner. "Often, it's not just personal choice, but economic necessity," Mason said.
To help bridge the gap, schools can implement family-friendly policies. Some, including Berkeley, have done that and reap the benefits, they said.
Among suggestions for making a university a more friendly environment for families, they point to paid parental leave for both men and women, allowing "dual hires" so a spouse and the candidate both are offered jobs, child care grants and the availability of emergency child care, among others.
"If you are a woman, it will matter," said Wolfinger. "If you are a university and want to hire the top candidates, but you are not family-friendly, you will be less competitive than those that are. And from a national vantage point, we are not using our whole labor force. ... It's a brain drain."
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