New research dispels myths about academic parental leave

Jan 24, 2013

New research from sociologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst counters misconceptions surrounding the use of paid parental leave on university campuses.

In a study published in the January 2013 issue of the journal Fathering, UMass Amherst associate professor Jennifer Lundquist (left) and professor Joya Misra, along with KerryAnn O'Meara of the University of Maryland, examined assumptions that men take unfair advantage of parental leave at universities, using the leave as an opportunity to further their research while shirking the responsibility of childcare. Critics of gender-neutral parental leave systems have claimed that male faculty are a greater threat to exploit the system because they are more likely to have female spouses who stay home full-time, or only work part-time, to raise their children.

In studying the faculty at a major public research university from 2006-09, the researchers found that such accusations are not grounded in fact. Not only did relatively few men from their sample take paid parental leave, but the ones who did take leave needed to do so because they lacked a part-time or homemaker spouse. The only faculty who took leave with spouses at home were . Conversely, some faculty fathers whose partners were back at work fulltime still did not take the leave, fearing reprisals.

Those who did not use the opportunity expressed concerns that that they would either be seen as less dedicated to their work or, just the reverse, as childcare shirkers who are using the leave as a way to do more research. Statistical results showed that faculty of both genders engaged in science and math disciplines (STEM) were among the least likely to take parental leave.

"Many STEM disciplines are still male-faculty dominated," Lundquist says, "and our participants described informal departmental cultures which operate on the outdated assumption that faculty have a stay-at-home partner to provide support."

In addition, the researchers collected data about the activities faculty engage in during parental leave. They found that, in addition to being the primary caregiver of their newborn, men and women alike also engaged in some modicum of work during the leave period, including student advising and research. Although all agreed that becoming parents temporarily reduced research productivity, the leave policy enabled them to care for their newborn and not fall too far behind in their research careers.

Data for the study was collected using a mixed-methods approach of surveys, focus groups and qualitative one-on-one interviews.

Lundquist, Misra, and O'Meara point out that although there are still gender balance concerns regarding family leave policies, these are due more to issues women face from the childbearing process, such as delivery recovery and lactation. Some simple nuancing of policies, such as providing additional time to biological mothers, may provide an adequate remedy.

"The outdated notion of a worker with no care responsibilities doesn't fit the experience of most academics," Misra notes. "Leave policies of this type have the potential to reconfigure academic work more broadly – to the benefit of all faculty and their family members."

Explore further: Digital native fallacy: Teachers still know better when it comes to using technology

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

More children in Europe with Swedish family policy

Oct 04, 2011

European politicians who want women to have more children should consider the Swedish model with subsidised child care and paid parental leave. This is the conclusion of a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg.

Why do so many women leave biology?

Dec 11, 2012

The retention rate of women in the biological sciences, both in the United States and Canada, is lower than would be expected from the number of female doctoral students who graduated within the last decade, and lower than ...

Couples who do the dishes together stay happier

Dec 15, 2009

A new study published by The University of Western Ontario reveals that couples who share the responsibility for paid and unpaid work report higher average measures of happiness and life satisfaction than those in other family ...

Study: paid family leave leads to positive economic outcomes

Jan 19, 2012

With a growing need for family-friendly workplace policies, a new study commissioned by the National Partnership for Women & Families, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, concludes that providing paid family leave ...

Recommended for you

New poll reveals what Americans fear most

6 hours ago

Chapman University has initiated the first comprehensive nationwide study on what strikes fear in Americans in the first of what is a planned annual study. According to the Chapman poll, the number one fear in America today ...

Study shows how texas campus police tackle stalking

6 hours ago

One out of every five female students experience stalking victimization during their college career, but many of those cases are not reported to police, according to a study by the Crime Victims' Institute ...

How large-scale technology projects affect knowledge

9 hours ago

What do an accelerator complex at Cern, a manufacturing center in 19th century Philadelphia and lotus cultivation during the Qing dynasty all have in common? All such activities generate knowledge and know-how. ...

User comments : 0