It’s Tough Being a Mom in Academia, New Research Confirms
Posted March 29, 2023
In one of the largest academic studies to date evaluating the impact of parenthood on scholarly productivity, a team of researchers, including School of Public Policy Chair Cassidy R. Sugimoto, has found that many moms in academia continue to take a bigger career hit than their male counterparts.
The study found that single mothers with academic careers are 15.3% less productive in terms of publishing output when compared with women who reported they equally share parenting roles with a non-academic partner. Men in such relationships were 5.6% more productive, while women who reported being secondary caregivers were 8.9% more productive. Parenting engagement also led to fewer citations in future years.
The findings come despite responses from men and women in academia in which both partners say they are doing roughly equal amounts of work caring for children, says Sugimoto, the School’s Tom and Marie Patton Chair.
“When we asked which of these tasks you are in charge of when you’re sharing responsibilities, we found that women were more likely to be leading all of the tasks and activities except for dropping children off at school and coaching sporting events,” Sugimoto said.
Sugimoto was a co-author of the paper published in December 2022 in Scientific Reports. Gemma E. Derrick of the University of Bristol was the lead author. Other co-authors were Pei-Ying Chen, Thed van Leeuwen, and Vincent Larivière.
Survey Insights on Academic Caregiving
The results are based on an analysis of 10,445 survey responses from published academics worldwide. The researchers found that women academics were nearly eight times as likely — 30.6% to 3.9% — to report serving as primary caregivers. However, 57.1% of men in academics and 52% of women reported parenting roles were equally divided. But the researchers’ analysis of time and task reporting showed that even women in self-described dual parenting relationships or who described themselves as secondary caregivers still turned out to be handling the majority of caregiving duties.
“These asymmetries between labor and credit show that even in the perception of equality between parents, women carry a higher burden of labor,” the researchers wrote.
The research also found discrepancies in the impact of parental leave. Men who took leave after the birth of a child were more likely to take shorter amounts of leave, but because they often perform fewer childcare tasks, they ended up being more productive at work. On the other hand, women took longer leaves but were often recovering from childbirth and consumed with even more childcare tasks, further reducing the time available to catch up on research work. She said they also miss out on other crucial aspects of their job.
“It’s not just not having time in the lab to produce knowledge. It’s also not having opportunities to be on the circuit to disseminate and amplify your knowledge,” Sugimoto said.
Sugimoto, a mother herself, said she benefitted from a highly engaged partner when her children were young.
“And I see that across the board for highly successful women in academics, that they typically have a partner who is disproportionately engaged relative to the population. And I don’t think that’s a success story.”
She said that success in an academic career “should not depend on who you have children with,” she said.
Policy Changes to Support Women Researchers
The research suggests a variety of policies that could be changed or implemented to better support the needs of women researchers, Sugimoto said. They include:
Reimagining the ideal worker to allow for more seamless integration between work and family life.
Providing resources to support scholar parents, such as lactation rooms, on-campus childcare, childcare subsidies, and travel accommodations for scholars traveling with children.
Changing policies that grant equal amounts of parental leave to men and women, or a single allotment of leave that couples must share; because of disparate attention to childcare, such policies tend to favor men over women.
“When I was a new Ph.D. and putting myself on the market, people told me to hide it, don’t tell anyone you have babies because it will be seen as a liability,” Sugimoto said. “I was explicit that I didn’t want to go to an institution that didn’t recognize me as a mother, and I hope through this research, we can begin to build a fair and equitable system that recognizes, supports, and respects the contributions of women who are both scholars and mothers.”
The paper, “The Relationship Between Parenting Engagement and Academic Performance” was published in Scientific Reports in December 2022. It is available at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-26258-z
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