Study Examines the “Parent Penalty” for Women in Academia

Chaoqun Ni, senior author, and an assistant professor in the Information School at the University of Wisconsin

A new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madson and the University of Iowa explores the influence of work-family conflict and partner support on the gender gaps in academic activity.

Using data from a survey of 7,764 academics in North America and publication data from the Web of Science, the authors analyzed gender differences in parenthood and academic achievements. They found that gender gaps in academic achievement are, in fact, “parenthood gender gaps.” Mothers are more likely than fathers to experience higher levels of work-family conflict and to receive lower levels of partner support, contributing significantly to the gender gaps in academic achievement, according to the study.

Specifically, 71.3 percent of mothers reported a negative child impact on their academic careers, while only 48.6 percent of fathers indicated so. Among those academics without children, nearly 60 percent of women said that career considerations played a role in their decision not to have children.

For academics who were not parents, women and men showed no significant differences in research satisfaction, career satisfaction, or in perceived recognition by scholarly communities. For those with children, however, the gender gap is prominent: mothers are less likely than fathers to be satisfied with their research achievements and the recognition from their scholarly communities. Women parents reported greater conflicts in work-family conflicts than male parents and less partner support than male parents.

The authors conclude that even those colleges and universities with progressive parental leave policies are not doing enough to alleviate the pressures faced by women faculty members with children. They recommend colleges and universities offer affordable child care, on-site child care, and flexible work schedules. The authors also state that promotion and tenure decisions should take into account the fact that women academics who are parents will have lower rates of publication in some cases due to greater family responsibilities.

The full study, “How Parenthood Contributes to Gender Gaps in Academia,” was published on the website site of the journal eLife Sciences. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/StudyWomen's Studies


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