The “Baby Penalty”: Why Women in Academia are Suffering
2:00 pm, June 10th | by Grace Rasmus
A new book, Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, assesses the impact of female childrearing on academic careers. Due to a lack of family-friendly policies and rigorous expectations, studies show that babies matter a lot in academia, affecting whether women enter and/or stay in the field.
“Certainly our most important finding has been that family negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, early academic careers,” said one co-author, Marc Goulden, director of data initiatives of University of California at Berkeley. “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.” The pattern for men however has been neutral or even positive.
Do Babies Matter? is probably the most extensive inquiry into academia, gender, and the family to date. The book is the culmination of years of individual research by Goulden and co-authors Mary Anne Mason, Professor of Law at UC Berkeley, and Nicholas Wolfinger, Associate Sociology Professor at the University of Utah. ”Now we have the whole story, soup to nuts,” Wolfinger said.
For women in acamedia, there’s a “baby penalty” at every stage, explained Mason. “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.”
According to a survey of graduate students in the UC system, female Ph.D. students don’t want to start families because of the time demands of motherhood and their fear that higher-ups would not take their work seriously. More than 40 percent of women who had children during their fellowships were considering leaving academia while only 20 percent of childless women and those with no plans for children were considering the same.
Do Babies Matter? reports that tenure-track female professors are more likely to be unmarried, divorced and childless than their male counterparts. Twelve years after receiving their doctorates, only 44 percent of female tenured faculty were married with children versus 70 percent of male tenured faculty — a “double equity problem,” according to Mason.
Despite the added pressures, many women in academia do have children. Most academic women choose to start their families when they’re 35- to 39-years-old which is later in life than women in other fast-track professions and “at a time when pregnancies become more risky biologically,” Wolfinger said.
There is still a long way to go in order to level the playing field for women in academia — at the moment, less than 60 percent of Association of American Universities institutions offer six weeks of paid maternity leave — but thanks to Goulden and his co-authors’ recommendations, some changes have already started to take effect. Mason was able to help initiate paid maternity leave for graduate students during her tenure as the first female dean of Berkeley’s Graduate Division. The policy wasn’t costly to the university (due to the low wages of Ph.D. students) and according to Mason, it sent a strong message to the student body and improved morale.