Friday, November 25, 2005

The Faculty Brat Shortage

The other day I wrote about student loan debt as a kind of contraception. An anonymous commentator directed me (and all of us) to a fine article by Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden, "Do Babies Matter? The Effect of Family Formation on the Lifelong Careers of Academic Men and Women." This piece appeared in the publications of the American Association of University Professors, and promotes some AAUP recommendations about how academic institutions could better accommodate motherhood in faculty and staff positions. These are sensible recommendations, which I endorse whole-heartedly.

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.

10 comments:

Denis Hancock said...

So how is it you can keep your job and Lawrence Summers has to grovel before the faculty to keep his job?

My wife and I both stopped at the M.S.degree in our respective fields, so the issue of tenure has not come up except indirectly. We both have had supervisors who had tenure difficulties in part due to their unwillingness to sacrifice family for job (both women).

You comment about "eating our seed corn" caused much chuckling in our household. I'm afraid it may not be much of an exaggeration.

Kate said...

most women with advanced degrees are married to men with advanced degrees (the reverse not being true)

It would seem then, that the obvious solution for women with robust careers would be to marry men with less education and earning capacity than they have. In other words, do what elite men have always done. It only makes sense that if one partner is going to be devoted primarily to career, that the other should be less so.

This is what I did and it's worked out marvelously for my husband and I. I get so tired of hearing women incessantly complain about how they have to take on more of the work at home when their husbands are clearly doing more work outside of it. If they wanted someone to do an equal share or more at home, than why didn't they marry their economic equal or inferior, rather than marrying up??

There are plenty of men out there that don't have all-consuming careers and that are quite willing to take on more of a family role (especially among the younger generations). Women who need to make tenure or partner should be marrying someone that can "opt-out" or work part-time, not guys with equally fancy degrees and career paths.

Gruntled said...

Denis:

Centre is a more sensible place than Harvard -- what can I say? We famously beat them in 1921, and we like to repeat the feat every now and then.

I think the professions are less friendly to families than corporate careers. The tenure/partner/board certified (or whatever the medical equivalent is) ladder is less forgiving than movement within the corporate hierarchy. It is those time-sequenced jobs which really need a formal "mommy track."

Kate, I think you have hit upon a great solution. I also think that most women won't take it (you can still be the smart minority). Women ultimately select their mates, and they have a strong tendency to select up if they can. This puts the highest status women in a real bind (as it does the lowest status men). I don't have research to back this next idea up, but I think most women find it surprisingly hard to respect a man who is not at least her status equal, especially when it comes to providing for her children. And men are very sensitive to this kind of disrespect. Still, you could be leading an important revolution.

Anonymous said...

Thought you might like to see this.

http://www.livejournal.com/community/cf_hardcore/1165412.html

Anonymous said...

Trying again..not sure if it properly posted..

Thought you might like to see this.

http://www.livejournal.com/
community/cf_hardcore/1165412.html

Gruntled said...

Anonymous, thanks for the link. Reginleif, or Ms. Daisy Cutter, seems to be strongly anti-child just now. She does not explain why, so I can't go much further in direct reply to her concerns. I expect, though, that she and most of the other contributors to "child free hardcore" (http://www.livejournal.com/community/cf_hardcore/) will feel differently when they are older.

Adriana said...

I agree with Kate, but mostly concerning women who are not subject to traditional pressures. There is a fine line here, though: having a stay-at-home mate is an appealing idea to some men and women alike. I have met many of these men, and it's a nice balance - the woman can work hard and still feel as though the children are being raised within their own family.

However, I do see the "trading up" argument as well. I find this with myself often times - it's really challenging to hold onto a relationship with a man who is not as driven as you are (not necessarily economically - I am speaking of goals in general here). One man in my life is particularly troublesome for me - he thinks I work too hard to advance in my career, but I think that he's too lazy (which is actually remarkably indisputable) and doesn't understand this importance. I think this arrangement only works when a) the woman doesn't care about the motivation level of the man, or b) the couple is willing to mutually decide that the man will be the one to sacrifice in the situation.

This is an interesting dilemma, provided that, in the past, many women have worked and raised children to help put their husbands through graduate school. Many of these relationships crumbled, however - partially due to having a separate social circle that doesn't fit with his old life, and sometimes that the goals turn out to be too challenging.

Interesting argument. I feel victim to this, but I don't feel as bad about it as I should. I realize I'm soon to leave the "peak age" for marital happiness and success, but I also have career goals that don't allow much time for family and relationships.

Gruntled said...

Adriana, a man who is unmotivated about his career could still be a great mate if he wanted to keep house and raise kids. If the roles were reversed, this would be unremarkable. I think it is hard to find men who want to do this, and women who would let them, but it only takes two to make a marriage.

Men who are lazy about everything, though, and not good husband prospects.

Adriana said...

Point well taken. I just see there being a fine line between being a good mate and content with raising a family and being generally lazy. It's the risk with some men of our generation - many seem to fear commitment, both in profession and otherwise, and it's tough to determine whether this is a temporary holdup or a permanent one. Some people need longer to grow up (and some people never really do grow up), but feeling confident that one's mate would have some sense of responsibility would be nice.

Gruntled said...

You could have an "affection strike" until he shows more ambition. Men rise to the standard that women set.