A QUESTION TO OUR READERS: The majority of respondents to an ASA survey say that motherhood has a negative effect on women’s careers in academic sociology. What are your experiences?
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The Demands of an Academic Career
In their article, “Figuring Out Flexibility,” (published May 7, 2009 in The Chronicle of Higher Education*), Anne Gallagher and Cathy A. Trower discuss pre-tenure faculty members’ wants and needs to be successful in their academic careers.
“We are often asked why many young faculty members don’t consider an academic career to be flexible, when it appears to be one of the few flexible options for someone with an advanced professional degree, as compared with, say, a career in law or medicine. People unfamiliar with tenure-track life imagine professors enjoying long and numerous breaks throughout the academic year, summers off, and the ability to work from home. But as most faculty members can attest, that popular (mis)representation has little in common with the reality of their own situations.”
Because of these demands, the academy has been described as a “greedy institution,” and the lack of fit between parental responsibilities and successful academic careers are based on the conflicting responsibilities of each. (See our research brief, “The Best Time to Have a Baby: Institutional Resources and Family Strategies Among Early Career Sociologists”). In their annual interviews with assistant professors, Gallagher and Trower found that the new generation of faculty members desire more flexibility in their careers, particularly with the ability to work towards tenure at their own pace and establish a manageable balance between careers and family life.
The Mother and the Academic
The conflict between work and family demands has been a continuous theme in our research briefs from a longitudinal study of a cohort of sociology PhDs. The ASA’s Research Department examined questions like,’When is the best time for female academics to have a baby?’ (“The Best Time to Have a Baby: Institutional Resources and Family Strategies Among Early Career Sociologists”) What work-family policies are available and who takes advantage of them? (“Resources or Rewards? The Distribution of Work-Family Policies”) Are mid-career parents satisfied in their work and family lives? (“PhDs at Mid-Career: Satisfaction with Work and Family”). And, does the availability of formal family-oriented policies attract candidates at smaller institutions? (See “What’s Happening in Your Department? Department Resources and the Demand Side of Hiring”).
We pose this Question of the Week specifically about the impact of motherhood on academic careers because a substantial proportion of early career sociology academics are female. In 2008, women represented more than 60 percent of PhDs awarded in the discipline. Moreover, women also tend to be the primary caregiver.
As Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden found in their study of PhD recipients between 1973 and 1999, having babies and raising children does impact the female academic’s career. (See “Do Babies Matter? The Effect of Family Formation on the Lifelong Careers of Academic Men and Women”). In particular, raising children has a negative effect on women’s, but not men’s career, trajectories. For example, men who have children early in their career are far more likely than women to achieve tenure who have done the same. Although, in our own study of mid-career PhDs we found high rates of satisfaction with work and family, female respondents still echoed this conclusion. As one wrote:
“Don’t get me wrong, I think that being a parent has made me a better sociologist and a better person. I think that I made the right choices for me and I’m not bitter about it. But, I think that there are still tremendous structural constraints for women in academic positions, particularly at research universities. I see this with my female colleagues. It may be the 21st century, but on average, male assistant professors can have babies and it doesn’t hurt (may even help) their careers and it slows women down.”
Join the Discussion
We invite readers to share their experiences, comments and questions on this topic. Click Add Comment below to post your comment. Please do not leave your name if you wish to remain anonymous.
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