Career ladder
In academia, women with ‘early babies’ less likely to climb, researchers report

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs

14 February 2002 | Women who become parents early in their post-Ph.D. careers are significantly less likely to achieve tenure than their male counterparts, according to two campus researchers.

Authors Mary Ann Mason, dean of the Graduate Division, and Marc Goulden, research analyst in the Graduate Division, used data on nearly 34,000 Ph.D. recipients to probe the relationship between work conditions and family life.Their study addresses mothers’ identity development, work flexibility and fathers’ participation in paid and unpaid work and other topics.

Mason and Goulden look at how having “early babies” affects women’s careers in the sciences, social sciences and the humanities. The study defines having “early babies” as having at least one child within five years of receiving a Ph.D. — a period of early career development for academics with high demands and high job insecurity.

Research highlights
The study is based on a survey conducted in the United States between 1973 and 1999. Participants received their Ph.D.s 12 to 14 years ago.

Among the findings:
• Women who become parents 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 at any point after the Ph.D.
• Women with early babies are far more likely than all others to become non-tenured faculty teaching for less money and fewer benefits.

As the numbers of women earning doctoral degrees rose from 10 percent to 42 percent between 1966 and 1998 — and even more sharply in fields such as law or medicine — the proportion of women who ultimately got tenure has remained about 45 percent since 1975, the study reports. For men, about 65 percent 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.

Berkeley survey
Looking for more information about how and when career and family decisions are made, Mason and Goulden analyzed a survey of more than 800 Berkeley postdoctoral fellows, most of them in the sciences. Among married women with children, 59 percent said they thought about leaving academia. 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.

Mason and Goulden suggest ways to deter women from abandoning academia and to achieve gender equity. These include better mentoring, childcare support, stopping the tenure clock at critical junctures, and providing re-entry options.

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.

Reaction to the 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. While some universities and many corporations have made changes, she said, “there is still not a national commitment to do so. Universities should be the models for the rest of society.”


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