Academic Careers and the Baby Penalty

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Berkeley professor Mary Ann Mason discusses why so many women don’t make it to the “top of the Ivory Tower as tenured professors, deans, and presidents,” and points to research showing how having babies penalizes women in academia.

Our most important finding is that family formation negatively affects women’s—but not men’s—academic careers. For men, having children can be a slight career advantage and, for women, it is often a career killer. Women who do advance through the faculty ranks do so at a high personal price: They are far less likely to be married with children than are their male colleagues.

Mason says “leaning in” helps, but only to a certain extent because structural changes such as pay equity reviews and paid family leave for both mothers and fathers would do far more for everyone as a whole:

Those universities and corporations who have actively created such policies have found an advantage in recruitment and retention. For instance, after Berkeley enacted several new policies to benefit parents, including paid teaching leaves for fathers, job satisfaction scored much higher among parents, and more babies are being born to assistant professors.

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