"Proto-Professor," by Liz Lawley, Flickr CC.
“Proto-Professor,” by Liz Lawley, Flickr CC.

Parenting is hard, whether you’re an academic or not. But when you’re a professor, there is one surefire way to help stay in the field, get tenure, and even score a pay bump. Be a man.

The message is clear: women with children in academia are at a disadvantage compared to both men with children and women without them. A recent article in Jezebel compiled findings from several studies to demonstrate this. According to sociologist Michelle Budig, high-income men get the biggest pay bump from having children in any job category, and low-income women lose the most.

A US News article, likewise reports that male professors with young children are more than three times as likely as women with young children to get tenure-track positions. Notably, women without children come in a close second: they are just under three times as likely as women with children to get tenure.

Along the same lines, women who have a baby as a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow are more than twice as likely as men who have children during this time to leave academic research. When it comes to having children in academia, women pay a harsh “baby penalty.”

Danny Fowler, Flickr CC.
Danny Fowler, Flickr CC.

Winter break is a time for students and faculty alike to hunker down after a long semester, spend time with family and friends, and relax. But if you’re a woman in your 20s or 30s, you’ve probably been cornered by at least one relative who tells you your biological clock is ticking. And while Aunt Helen may be right, it turns out there’s at least one big benefit for women who wait to start a family.

Recent research featured in the Huffington Post indicates that women in their 40s are actually healthier if they have their first child after age 24. Sociologist Kristi Williams and her colleagues followed 3,348 women for nearly 30 years, collecting self-reported health data. They found that women who had their first child between the ages of 25 and 35 reported better health at age 40 than women who had their first child between ages 15 and 19 or 20 and 24 (and there was no significant health difference at age 40 between these two younger groups).
Read the full article here.

Well, that oughta help her feel good about her time-use choices. Photo by Beth Kanter, Flickr CC.
Well, that oughta help her feel good about her time-use choices. Photo by Beth Kanter, Flickr CC.


Men and women who are lawyers, consultants, or hold other prestigious jobs find themselves answering late night emails and weekend phone calls. Even when they’re “off the clock,” trying to relax with their families, highly paid professionals often attend to work.

Still, men and women tend to cope with demands for their time differently, and it boils down to men working as much as possible, while women try to negotiate their careers to accommodate rearing their children. Sociologist Mary Blair-Loy from the University of California, San Diego told the New York Times that these differences come from broader, gendered cultural expectations: “It’s not really about business; it’s about fundamental identity and masculinity,” Ms. Blair-Loy said. “Men are required by the culture to be these superheroes, to fulfill this devotion and single-minded commitment to work.” For women, carpool, soccer games, and dance recitals are seen as more acceptable reasons for leaving work, “because they have an external definition of morality or leading the good life, which is being devoted to their children.”

However, being a “good mom” isn’t a “free pass,” and it certainly isn’t a route to career advancement. Coworkers often interpret only working 9-to-5 to mean that a woman is not fully invested in her career. And when the moms put their careers “before their kids”—say, taking calls during a T-ball game or staying at the office until 9pm—they’re likely to lose the respect of their colleagues, judged for bucking others’ ideas of what a nurturing mom really looks like. In careers and elsewhere, cultural tropes, from boardroom bosses to soccer moms, have real consequences.

Photo from Persephone's Birth by eyeliam on
Photo from Persephone's Birth by eyeliam via

The so-called “mommy wars” have apparently made it all the way to the delivery room, according to Jennifer Block, writing for Slate:

For a long time home birth was too fringe to get caught in this parenting no-fly zone, but lately it’s been fitting quite nicely into the mommy war media narrative: There are the stories about women giving birth at home because it’s fashionable, the idea that women are happy sacrificing their newborns for some “hedonistic” spa-like experience, or that moms-to-be (and their partners) are just dumb and gullible when it comes to risk management…

For many parents, home birth is a transcendent experience. …Yet as the number of such births grows, so does the number of tragedies—and those stories tend to be left out of soft-focus lifestyle features.

Debates about home birth have erupted in the media and the blogosphere in recent months, largely focused on the relative risks of home birth versus hospital birth. But at the heart of the issue is who, and what evidence, to trust.

I could list several recent large prospective studies… all comparing where and with whom healthy women gave birth, which found similar rates of baby loss—around 2 per 1,000—no matter the place or attendant. We could pick through those studies’ respective strengths and weaknesses, talk about why we’ll never have a “gold-standard” randomized controlled trial (because women will never participate in a study that makes birth choices for them), and I could quote a real epidemiologist on why determining the precise risk of home birth in the United States is nearly impossible. Actually, I will: “It’s all but impossible, certainly in the United States,” says Eugene Declercq, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at Boston University, and coauthor of the CDC study that found the number of U.S. home births has risen slightly, to still less than 1 percent of all births. One of the challenges is that “the outcomes tend to be pretty good,” Declercq says…But to really nail it down here in the U.S., he says, we’d need to study tens of thousands of home births, “to be able to find a difference in those rare outcomes.” With a mere 30,000 planned home births happening each year nationwide, “We don’t have enough cases.”

And, as sociologist Barbara Katz-Rothman notes, decisions about where to give birth are likely made more on the basis of perceived, rather than real, risk.

“What we’re talking about is felt risk rather than actual risk,” explains Barbara Katz-Rothman, professor of sociology at the City University of New York and author of much scholarship on birth, motherhood, and risk. Take our fear of flying. “Most people understand intellectually that on your standard vacation trip or business trip, the ride to and from the airport is more likely to result in your injury or death than the plane ride itself, but you never see anybody applaud when they reach the airport safely in the car.” The flight feels more risky. Similarly, we can look at data showing our risk of infection skyrockets the second we step in a hospital, “but there’s something about the sight of all those gloves and masks that makes you feel safe.”

Photo by Liz Throop via

Multitasking is taking a bigger toll on working mothers than on working fathers, confirms a new study published in the American Sociological Review. The authors suggest the key to the difference in stress may lie in which tasks each group is juggling. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the parents all spent nearly equal hours doing paid work, but the women were spending about nine more hours each week multitasking. In addition, that maternal multitasking often involved juggling housework and childcare.

The story for dads was a bit different, the Times wrote:

Multitasking by fathers was far less likely to involve child care, the study found, and unlike moms, dads tended to report they were more focused when in charge of their kids. Researchers said this jibes with much research showing that fathers are more likely than mothers to engage with their children in “interactive activities” that are “more pleasurable than routine child care tasks.” When mothers had child care duties, they were more likely to take the kids along on errands, drive them to activities or supervise their homework, the study found.

“This helps explain why women feel more burdened than men,” lead author Shira Offer, an assistant professor of sociology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, told Time. “It’s related not just to amount but to their experience when they multitask.”

Barbara Schneider, study co-author and a sociologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, also told the Los Angeles Times article that the families studied were not necessarily “typical American families”:

Participants in the 500 Family Study may not be representative of American families economically, educationally or by ethnicity, Schneider acknowledged. But by focusing on some of the busiest parents, she said, the study underscores the disproportionate emotional toll that multitasking may be taking on women as they shoulder a wider range of responsibilities in the family.

The take-away from the study, according to Time‘s interview with study author Offer:

Dads, pitch in more (without being asked!). Employers and policy-makers, make that possible by understanding that it’s not only mom who should transport the kids to day care and school or stay home with a sick child.

*Photo by Liz Throop,

More than half of new mothers now get paid leave from work, the U.S. Census Bureau announced last week. At face value the news might seem like cause for celebration, but some have dug deeper to expose exactly which mothers were getting paid leave.

The 22-page census report reported that a super-slim majority of women were getting paid leave: 51 percent of first-time mothers were able to take paid maternity, sick, or vacation time between 2006 and 2008. Hence the divide between which half of moms headlines highlighted:

“Majority of new moms are getting paid leave” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“Paid-leave benefits lagging for working moms in U.S.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Census shows half of working women don’t get paid maternity benefits; wide gaps by education” (Associated Press)

The lack of access to paid leave among women who haven’t completed college is raising concern. According to the AP article, “Lower-educated mothers are nearly four times more likely than college graduates to be denied paid maternity benefits. That’s the widest gap over the past 50 years.” (The chart above illustrates the comparison.)

New York University sociologist Kathleen Gerson, author of The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, shared her opinion. “This isn’t good news for women at the bottom, and the irony is that the people with the most children are now the least likely to have the supports they need,” she told the Associated Press.

University of Minnesota sociologist Erin Kelly echoed Gerson’s sentiment when interviewed by the Star Tribune. “People who are already living paycheck to paycheck, if they don’t have access to paid leave they’re going to have to quit or they’re going to have to do something that is really unhealthy for themselves or their babies,” Kelly told the paper. “The lack of [federal] paid leave policy means in effect we are pushing those women to quit.”