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UC Berkeley report tracks effects of family on gender equity in post-PhD ranks
08 February 2002

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

Berkeley - There is a large, uniform and consistent gap between men and women when it comes to achieving tenure in academia if they've become parents early in their post-PhD careers, according to a new University of California, Berkeley, study.

Authors Mary Ann Mason, dean of the Graduate Division at UC Berkeley, and Marc Goulden, research analyst in the Graduate Division, will present their findings on Saturday, Feb. 9, at a conference at San Francisco's Hyatt Regency on the latest research on the relationship between work conditions and family life. Topics include mothers' identity development, work flexibility, and fathers' participation in paid and unpaid work.

Using data from a biennial longitudinal survey of the post-graduate careers and family structure of nearly 34,000 doctorate recipients in the United States from 1973 to 1999, Mason and Goulden have pinpointed the effect that having "early babies" has on women's careers in the sciences, social sciences and the humanities. The study defines having "early babies" as having at least one child in the household prior to five years out from the PhD - a period of early career development with high demands as well as high job insecurity. The participants had received their PhDs 12 to 14 years ago.

Among the research highlights:

* Women who have at least one child early in their careers are 24 percent less likely in the sciences and 20 percent less likely in the social sciences and humanities to achieve tenure than men who have early babies.

* Men who have early babies are somewhat more likely than all others to achieve tenure.

* The majority of women who achieve tenure have no children in their household at any point after the PhD.

* Women with early babies are far more likely than all others to join the non-tenured, second-tier of lecturers and others generally teaching for less money and fewer benefits.

Mason and Goulden report that as the numbers of women earning doctoral degrees rose from 10 percent to 42 percent between 1966 and 1998, and rose more sharply for women earning professional degrees in fields such as law or medicine, the proportion of women who received a PhD and ultimately became tenured has remained about 45 percent since 1975. This compares with about 65 percent of men who became tenured.

Also, a salary gap between men and women faculty members has only widened over the last 30 years and in 1998 was $10,934, according to the researchers.

"We have done a much better job of opening up the competition than we have in leveling the playing field. Merely opening up graduate education is clearly not enough," they conclude.

Why? "Society has two interests," Mason said. "One is to maximize the contribution of its highly trained workforce, the other is to share the responsibility of raising healthy children with parents. Both of these goals require structural changes in the workplace."

Some have blamed the "glass ceiling," an inherent pattern of discrimination. Others have placed responsibility on an unbending American workplace that forces women - but not men - to chose between work and family.

"In truth, there has been a great deal of rhetoric, but not much data to back up these heated debates," Mason and Goulden say in their study.

Looking for more information about how - and when - career and family decisions are made, Mason and Goulden analyzed a survey of more than 800 UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellows, most of them in the biological or physical sciences. Of the study group, about 35 percent were women and, of those women, 32 percent already had at least one child. Many of the men and women in the study were married.

Survey participants were queried about how they felt about their careers, and 59 percent of the married women with children said they thought about leaving academia.

Asked about postdoctoral experiences and the quality of their mentoring, women with children reported working fewer hours per week in the lab and presenting research findings at far fewer national conferences than their male counterparts.

"With these performance indicators, you can imagine that their mentor, the professor with whom they were working, would not be as likely to recommend them for research university positions," the report said.

Mason said her own career history is "like many women, not at all linear and very much influenced by family responsibilities." She said she was essentially a "re-entry woman," joining the UC Berkeley faculty when her children were older.

Mason and Goulden say there are many options available to help prevent women from abandoning academia and to achieve gender equity.

Among them: mentoring graduate students about the realities as well as the rewards of an academic life and providing support for them if they have children in graduate school. The researchers also recommend providing extra childcare money if the university is already subsidizing assignments such as conference travel, stopping the tenure clock for assistant professors at a level of one year for a child, and encouraging re-entry tracks for those who leave academia for a few years. Women with families are having a hard time in the probationary period before tenure, the time period when many women have early babies, the researchers noted.

Although the Mason-Goulden research focuses on academia, the researchers say the patterns they have found are not exclusive to the university classroom or laboratory.

General reaction to the UC Berkeley-funded study has been positive, Mason said.

"But there is a fundamental reluctance to change the structure of the workplace, any workplace," she said. "Changes have been made in some universities and in many institutions and corporations, but there is still not a national commitment to do so. Universities should be the models for the rest of society."

Saturday's conference, "Persons, Processes and Places: Research and Families, Workplaces and Communities" is being sponsored by the Business and Professional Women's Foundaiton, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Center for Families at Purdue University. It began Thursday, Feb. 7, and continues through Saturday.

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