Women in academia & the baby gap

An article in the recent issue of Ms. Magazine discusses the recent appointment of Drew Gilpin Faust as President of Harvard University, and goes on to talk about the current status of women in the university. The article discusses how the number of women hired as new professors in academia has dropped as affirmative action has fallen under attack in various states, how women and minorities disproportionately fill the ranks of the untenured and the adjuncts, and how research has shown that having babies before becoming tenured significantly reduces the likelihood of achieving tenure. I, personally, am very interested in all of these things, as I am currently striving to eventually become a professor. I also know that I want to have babies before receiving tenure, as I’m only 23 and won’t be receiving tenure, if at all and at the earliest, for about another 10 years.

Here is an excerpt from the Ms. article:

One of the explanations for the gender differential in academic careers may be the “Baby Gap,” according to researchers Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden at the University of California, Berkeley. Their investigations have shown that having children, especially “early babies,” is a disadvantage for women’s professional careers—but an advantage for men’s. Women with babies are 29 percent less likely than women without to enter a tenure- track position, and married women are 20 percent less likely than single women to do so.

Women with “early” babies leave academia more frequently before getting their first tenure-track job, but women with “late” babies do as well as women without children. Given that systemic bias against motherhood, it is not surprising that women who achieve tenure are far more likely than men to be single. In the American Council on Education’s 2006 report, The American College President, a similar striking contrast was noted: While 89 percent of male presidents are married, only 63 percent of women presidents are, and while 91 percent of male presidents have children, only 68 percent of women presidents do.

Mason and Goulden believe such disadvantages can be eliminated by creating policies that do not penalize women for bearing children. They recommend acknowledging family-friendly packages as a recruitment tool to attract and keep the best faculty.


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