Fathers and Childless Women in Academia Are 3x More Likely to Get Tenure Than Women With Kids

Illustration for article titled Fathers and Childless Women in Academia Are 3x More Likely to Get Tenure Than Women With Kids

If you are a man, having children will likely improve your career prospects; if you are a woman, having children will almost certainly hurt them. Specifically, if you’re a woman with children in academia, the “baby penalty” means that men with children and childless women are three times more likely to get tenure than you.


“One of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children,” wrote Claire Cain Miller at the New York Times in 2014. “Mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications.”

This bias is most extreme for the parents who can least afford it, according to new data from Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has studied the parenthood pay gap for 15 years. High-income men get the biggest pay bump for having children, and low-income women pay the biggest price, she said in a paper published this month by Third Way, a research group that aims to advance moderate policy ideas.

The “baby penalty” intersects with the currently downshifting and strained structure of academia in a particularly terrible way. More women than men get college degrees today; if these women stay on the academic track, they are confronted almost immediately with the familiar questions—when are they going to have children, and how much is it going to fuck up their lives? From Mary Ann Mason at Slate back in 2013:

The early years are the most decisive in determining who wins and who loses. Female graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who have babies while students or fellows are more than twice as likely as new fathers or than childless women to turn away from an academic research career.

This early and swift discouragement—and the fact that many female academics are married to male academics, and that every factor in human history means that their partners’ careers tend to take precedence over their own—leads to a situation in which women with families get winnowed out on their way to positions with stability and benefits, two of the things they most clearly need.

And so, writes US News and World Report, academia ends up being more punishing to women with children than either law or medicine (emphasis ours):

Some have argued that because tenure clocks and biological clocks tick to the same unrelenting beat, achieving gender diversity in academia will be especially challenging. But the evidence suggests otherwise. Becoming a parent is not, on its own, to blame: Men with young children are more than three times as likely as women with young children to secure tenure-track positions after completing their Ph.D.s. Fathers also outstrip mothers in securing tenure by about 20 percent.

Neither is gender bias alone to blame: Women without children are about three times more likely than women with children to secure tenure-track faculty positions. In other words, at a pivotal point in establishing their careers, mothers in academia pay a “baby penalty.” Why should parenting continue to weigh so much more heavily on female academics than on their male counterparts?


The article provides a few basic suggestions—make parenting resources more available, track longitudinal career data in a more concerted effort, look to other sectors for tips—but I think this scenario is ripe for an Eileen Myles solution, in which men take a seat for approximately 50 to 100 years.

Contact the author at jia@jezebel.com.

Image via Universal.


I am 30 and in a STEM field. I had a baby last year and took 5 months off.

I am trying my motherfckin hardest to “have it all” but I watch these young single men jump at opportunities that require travel, late nights, & weekend work and know that I simply just can’t.