Alone in the Ivory Tower

Apr 17, 2008

A new study from the University of Utah shows that women in academia have fewer children compared to other professional women -- primarily because it takes longer to achieve the job security of tenure -- and concludes that gender equality in the "ivory tower" has come at a cost.

The study is being presented this week at the 2008 annual meeting of the Population Association of America in New Orleans by Nicholas Wolfinger, co-author of the study and associate professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah.

By analyzing data from the 2000 U.S. Census, Wolfinger and colleagues have shown that the number of babies in professional families vary widely by discipline and by gender.

The data shows that professors have fewer children than either doctors or lawyers, but more surprising is that female professors have the lowest number of babies of all. Although male faculty are 21 percent less likely than male doctors to have a baby in their households, female faculty are 41 percent less likely than are their female physician counterparts.

"For female professors, the lower birth rate compared to women in other professions is not a product of differences in income or marriage. They truly are more likely to be alone in the ivory tower," said Wolfinger. "We also found that female faculty are the most likely (13 percent) of the three professions to be separated, widowed or divorced."

The results are compounded when academics marry each other. Male professionals who are married to doctors or lawyers, or whose wives are out of the work force, are more likely to have babies than male professionals whose wives are academics.

"Many studies have examined the effects of childbirth on professional success, but few have considered how career choice affects fertility," says Wolfinger. "If women are sacrificing families for their jobs, the sexual revolution has not come nearly as far as might otherwise be expected."

A fundamental challenge for women choosing an academic career, while also wanting to start a family, is the time it takes to achieve job security in higher education, which is known as tenure. Getting tenure makes it more difficult for faculty to take time out for children than either medicine or law, but it makes it particularly difficult for women.

On average, professors achieve tenure at close to 40 years of age, which biologically is past the prime childbearing age for women. This may be why female academics, unlike members of other professions, are most likely to have children in their mid to late thirties.

In contrast, depending on length of residency, many doctors and physicians will have careers in full stride by their early to mid thirties.

In addition to higher salaries, both physicians and lawyers have more options for part-time positions and the relative ease of moving between jobs. Faculty who do not achieve tenure but wish to stay in academia usually have to relocate.

The study is limited in that data on type of employment is available only as broad job classifications. More detailed information with regard to type of physician specialty, sector of legal employment and type of academic institution could reveal further differences in birth events.

Wolfinger and co-authors Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden from the University of California, Berkeley, have been collaborating in the area of gender and family formation for several years. As a result, a program to promote family-friendly policies for higher education can be found at ucfamilyedge.berkeley.edu .

Source: University of Utah

Explore further: Engineers develop gift guide for parents

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mosquito-feeding study may help stem dangerous viruses

Nov 06, 2014

Mosquitoes bite male birds nearly twice as often as they bite females, a finding that may help scientists understand how to stem some viruses from spreading to humans, new University of Florida research shows.

In Amazon wars, bands of brothers-in-law

Oct 27, 2014

When Yanomamö men in the Amazon raided villages and killed decades ago, they formed alliances with men in other villages rather than just with close kin like chimpanzees do. And the spoils of war came from ...

Girls got game

Aug 29, 2014

Debi Taylor has worked in everything from construction development to IT, and is well and truly socialised into male-dominated workplaces. So when she found herself the only female in her game development ...

Recommended for you

Engineers develop gift guide for parents

Nov 21, 2014

Faculty and staff in Purdue University's College of Engineering have come up with a holiday gift guide that can help engage children in engineering concepts.

Former Brown dean whose group won Nobel Prize dies

Nov 20, 2014

David Greer, a doctor who co-founded a group that won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for working to prevent nuclear war and who helped transform the medical school at Brown University, has died. He was 89.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.