Wednesday, November 26, 2003

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The conundrum of tenure and toddlers

Kieran Healy, Chris Bertam, and the Invisible Adjunct have posts up about this report in Academe on the effect of gender and children on career advancement: The key finding in the report:

Our findings illustrate, not surprisingly, that babies do matter—they matter a great deal. And what also matters is the timing of babies. There is a consistent and large gap in achieving tenure between women who have early babies and men who have early babies, and this gap is surprisingly uniform across the disciplines and across types of institutions. While there are some differences among the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities, and there are some differences between large research universities and small liberal arts colleges, the "baby gap" is robust and consistent. By our definition, an "early baby" is one who joins the household prior to five years after his or her parent completes the Ph.D. For most academics, this represents the time of early career development: graduate school and assistant professor or postdoctoral years. These are years of high demands and high job insecurity.

In the sciences and engineering, among those working in academia, men who have early babies are strikingly more successful in earning tenure than women who have early babies.... there is an overall 24 percent gap between men's and women's rates of having achieved tenure twelve to fourteen years after receiving the Ph.D. This comparative finding focuses on that relatively small group of women who receive Ph.D.'s in the sciences. The gap would be even larger if we simply compared all men in science with all women in science, since men Ph.D.'s greatly outnumber women Ph.D.'s. The same phenomenon exists in the humanities and social sciences, where the gap in tenure achievement between men and women who have early babies is close to 20 percent. Surprisingly, having early babies seems to help men; men who have early babies achieve tenure at slightly higher rates than people who do not have early babies.

The effects of having late babies, those who join the household more than five years after the Ph.D. is earned, are far less dramatic. Overall, women with late babies and women without children demonstrate about the same rate of achieving tenure, a rate higher than women with early babies. Presumably, women who have babies later in their career life have already achieved job security. They are also more likely to have only one child.

Overall, women who attain tenure across the disciplines are unlikely to have children in the household. Twelve to fourteen years out from the Ph.D., 62 percent of tenured women in the humanities and social sciences and 50 percent of those in the sciences do not have children in the household. By contrast, only 39 percent of tenured men in social sciences and humanities and 30 percent of those in the sciences do not have children in the household 12 to 14 years out from the Ph.D.

As a man whose wife had an early baby, I guess I should like my chances for tenure. However, the implications of the report are indeed disturbing. Laura McK**** makes some interesting proposals. [Hey, is it any worse in academia than elsewhere?--ed. Good question. Anyone know if this gender effect also takes place among similar professions like law or medicine? What do you mean by "similar profession"?--ed. A trade that requires a great deal of training, after which there is an intense 5-7 year period of near-apprenticeship, and then a significant career advancement that vastly increases job security?]

posted by Dan on 11.26.03 at 08:31 PM


This is one of the central reasons why someone in academia has a most difficult time not becoming an intellectual slut. I do not envy anyone who chooses this career path. The pressures are enormous and only a near saint can survive with their integrity intact. Should only the financially independent opt for such a challenge?

Exacerbating this already sad situation is the harsh fact that too many people are seeking a tenured position. Isn’t it fair to say that political scientists, for instance, are a dime a dozen?

posted by: David Thomson on 11.26.03 at 08:31 PM [permalink]

" A trade that requires a great deal of training, after which there is an intense 5-7 year period of near-apprenticeship, and then a significant career advancement that vastly increases job security?"

That would not be law that you were talking about.

Been there, done that, no T-shirt

posted by: Robert Schwartz on 11.26.03 at 08:31 PM [permalink]

It's worse, if nothing else then because the number of years involved is different.

Law: 3 years law school, maybe + 1 clerkship.
Med: 4 years school.
Academic: 5-7, and not uncommonly 8, years school-- and often 1-2 years postdoc and adjunct before starting the tenure clock.

I believe partner-track lasts 5-6 years (may be wrong). Residency lasts 4 years. Tenure track ordinarily 6-7.

If one wants to wait until after the security-increasing promotion to have one's first child, then lawyers can get there at 30-32, docs at 29-30. Academics are lucky to get there at 34, with 35 more likely. Post-35 simply isn't the ideal time to have a first child...

Coupl'a years ago the NYT Ed Life section had an article purporting to show with numbers that it's worse for academics-- many fewer tenured women profs than lawyers or docs at equivalent age/ career status had children--- and IIRC the gap between men and women was bigger in academe than in the other two.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 11.26.03 at 08:31 PM [permalink]

Partner track at the biggest law firms is more like 7-9 years at this point, although it may be shorter at smaller places. For medical residencies, four years is a minimum. Surgical specialties can have residencies stretching up to ten years. No quibbles with anything else Prof. Levy mentioned.

posted by: Tom T. on 11.26.03 at 08:31 PM [permalink]

As a partner at a large law firm who just got laid off (along with 10% of my colleagues), I can assure you that partnership is nowhere near as secure as tenure.

FYI, partnership is generally offered after 7-10 years, and genuine "full" ownership partnership is often delayed even further. The trend has been to stretch this out even further: 15 years ago it was relatively rare not to be a full partner at 8 years. The bigger the firm, the longer the track.

posted by: R C Dean on 11.26.03 at 08:31 PM [permalink]

Well, I'm not sure what the whole "gender gap" slant is supposed to be saying?

1)Wow, we're surprised that women take on more of the responsibility of childrearing? (This is a surprise to anyone?)

2)Wow, there are trade-offs in life, and choosing to have children might mean that the careers of primary care-givers suffer?

3)And this is wrong, because....?

posted by: cj on 11.26.03 at 08:31 PM [permalink]

Many of the people in this study undoubtedly received training by tenured professionsals who, in many cases, already had children by the time they obtained their advanced degrees. I am speaking of the many men, not many women, who took advantage of the GI Bill to receive their education including advanced degrees,after WWII. Tenure track and education has changed in a great many ways over the past 40 years. The Russian advances that put Sputnik in orbit put federal funding of advanced education in orbit also. Many of the students who avoided the Vietnam draft did so with NSF funds, and had children while in school, maybe guaranteeing non-draftiblity. Been there, seen that.

posted by: Ruth H on 11.26.03 at 08:31 PM [permalink]

I know a couple of tenured professors at Carnegie Mellon who solved this problem by marrying men who were not focussed on their careers and who took on most of the child-rearing responsibilities. Both of them avoided this "tenure gap." Thus, I think a breakdown of women married to "ambitious" vs. "domestic" men would be instructive. Also, it would be a good idea to examine how women themselves felt about their decision to have children earlier or later life vs. their ability to achieve tenure earlier.

Not every difference in work patterns between men and women can or should be attributed to sexism. We need to make an honest attempt to understand men and women *as they are* (and not *as we would wish them to be*).

posted by: Tom Ault on 11.26.03 at 08:31 PM [permalink]

A recent study on career paths for women in law practice comes to almost exactly the same conclusions. See
Hersch, Joni, "The New Labor Market for Lawyers: Will Female Lawyers Still Earn Less?" . Cardozo Women's Law Journal, Vol. 10, No. 1, Fall 2003

Here is the abstract:

To examine the magnitude and source of the gender pay disparity among lawyers, this paper uses data from a large national survey reporting individual information for 1990 and 1993 on a wide array of work related and personal characteristics. The data show a large earnings shortfall for female lawyers earning their J.D. before 1990, even after controlling for differences in work history, hours worked, type of employer, and family characteristics. . .

The findings of this paper suggest that although the gender disparity will narrow as women gain experience in the legal profession, a gap due to family status is likely to persist. First, men receive a large premium to being married. To the extent this premium derives from specialization, women lawyers may likewise benefit from marital specialization as more women have spouses with supporting careers. But the evidence from the younger cohort does not bode well, as traditional patterns of spousal employment status persist. Second, although marital status and children do not directly affect women's earnings, they do influence hours worked. Finally, one cannot rule out the existence of discrimination because there is a large unexplained gender pay disparity that remains even after controlling for extensive work-related and personal characteristics.

In short: same story: successful married male lawyers generally have a stay-at-home spouse running the household. Women lawyers generally don't.

posted by: Zeno on 11.26.03 at 08:31 PM [permalink]

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