The main finding was that women with children, especially early children (within five years of the Ph.D.) or with more than one child, are less likely to make it to the top of the academic profession. This is especially true in the sciences. I wrote about this recently in relation to the Lawrence Summers controversy. Women who want children are more likely to opt out of the research tenure-track in the first place. The academy was born as a monastery, from which married men were also excluded, and has never entirely gotten over it.
I was struck by another point that Mason and Goulden made:
Overall, women who attain tenure across the disciplines are unlikely to have children in the household. Twelve to fourteen years out from the Ph.D., 62 percent of tenured women in the humanities and social sciences and 50 percent of those in the sciences do not have children in the household. By contrast, only 39 percent of tenured men in social sciences and humanities and 30 percent of those in the sciences do not have children in the household 12 to 14 years out from the Ph.D.
Our culture has made a huge effort in the past two generations to open all opportunities to women, to encourage women to become educated, and especially to enter the sciences. This effort has paid off tremendously. There are eminent women in all professions. Most college students are women, and the graduate and professional schools are at or near parity. The number of women Ph.D.s has doubled, and doubled, and doubled again. Women are hired in very significant numbers throughout academia.
Yet most tenured women with Ph.D.s do not have children. As Mason and Goulden report, most women with advanced degrees are married to men with advanced degrees (the reverse not being true). So every childless female Ph.D. is also more likely to represent a childless male Ph.D. or the equivalent, as well. And the picture is not much better for the men. A third of men with Ph.D.s are childless.
It takes a huge social investment to produce such highly educated people – men and women. This is a social investment, not just an individual one. The first return to society is the intelligence that highly educated people can bring to social needs. The second return, the spin-off of investing in smart people is that we are more likely to get a new generation of smart kids. Smart kids can come from all kinds of parents, of course, and the academy is richly endowed with smart parents who have produced some very squirrelly children, indeed. But the fact remains that the children of smart parents are more likely to be smart, and the children of a smart couple are much more likely to be smart.
Faculty brats make a disproportionate contribution to the smarts of this country. Yet our academic system makes professors more likely to choose not to have kids in order to advance their academic careers – especially women, This is not just a loss for the family lines of these professors. Losing half of each generation of faculty brats is a long-term loss for society. We are eating our intellectual seed corn.