“Men can have it all, women can’t” (UPDATED)

Oddly, while I was watching the inoguration live stream from the New York Times site this morning- I noticed this little article entitled ‘In ‘Geek Chic’ and Obama, New Hope for Lifting Women in Science’ right next to the streaming window. I vowed that I would go back and read it after the speeches were over.

And I did. The article says pretty much what you would expect and what we who work in academic science all know. This pretty much sums up the latest:

Some would like to see novel approaches to treating systemic problems that often work against women’s scientific ambitions. Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden of the University of California, Berkeley, have gathered extensive data showing stark male-female differences in the family structure and personal lives of academic researchers at the top tiers of the profession.

Surveying outcomes for 160,000 Ph.D. recipients across the United States, the researchers determined that 70 percent of male tenured professors were married with children, compared with only 44 percent of their tenured female colleagues. Twelve years or more after receiving their doctorates, tenured women were more than twice as likely as tenured men to be single and significantly more likely to be divorced. And lest all of this look like “personal choice,” when the researchers asked 8,700 faculty members in the University of California system about family and work issues, nearly 40 percent of the women agreed with the statement, “I had fewer children than I wanted,” compared with less than 20 percent of the men. The take-home message, Dr. Mason said in a telephone interview, is, “Men can have it all, but women can’t.”

But… go on and read it… are you hopefully that Obama can help fix this issue by addressing issues like family and maternity leaves… etc… ?

Since I posted this several others have commented on the same article and other aspects of this topic, readers might be interested in following multiple discussions…


21 thoughts on ““Men can have it all, women can’t” (UPDATED)

  1. yeah… it’s nothing new I guess?! But still, one can hope that it will be different some day.

    I am not really sure that it will though, unless we make it work partly that you can be a mother and not always a “good mother” as in the terms of fathers can be just fathers…

    thanks for the link though. I’d go and read the other ones generated and see if I can find some hope.

  2. Ah chall- Don’t dispair- perhaps the playing field will become more level for all parents if a paid parental leave is instituted for all recipients of federal grants…

  3. When I was a graduate student, the head of the department famously told one of my cohort that “of course a woman in science can have children. But her husband can’t work though.” The department chair had his kids shortly after receiving his PhD and his wife (a journalist) worked only sporadically during his career, including long after their two kids were in school and grown.

    I’ve certainly heard female PhDs call for house husbands to be a more accepted — even expected — role for the partners of women in science. I think the solution is not to assume that the spouse is the primary caregiver, it is to assume that all parents will be roughly equal caregivers, whether one, both or neither of the parents is an academic scientist. I’m not sure how this leads to parents being ‘competitive’ against single or childfree scientists, who don’t have to take sick days for kids with sniffles, who have more control over when they stay up all night for non-science reasons… But I know that many successful scientists naturally require fewer than six or eight hours of sleep a night, and that put them at a potential ‘advantage’ over those of use who are closer to the mean or higher on the amount of sleep we need each night. We can’t force those that only need four hours a night to spend their spare time on something other than science…

    I think I am calling for a more European attitude towards academic working hours, and some kind of enforcement of it… even though that utterly impractical in 2009 America.

  4. As I was checking over whether we could hit the itemized deductions level this year, I noticed what did and didn’t count as a health care cost: acupuncture or chiropracty? Yes. Help with nursing or maternity leave or care, or even hiring a person to take care of the baby so that Mom could go to a doctor’s appointment by herself? No.

    Anyhow, given that you can only deduct health care costs in excess of 7.5% of your income, the answer is no, we’re taking the standard deduction, if you care. But it did leave me thinking about why we give women such short maternity leave and don’t even give them a chance to count some aspect of it against tax burden.

  5. DrdrA: “Perhaps the playing field will become more level for all parents if a paid parental leave is instituted for all recipients of federal grants…”

    I do not even want to think about this. After talking to one of my fellow post doc at the nice institute (we have awesome health care and low premiums etc) I was stunned silent. We have absolutely no paid parental leave. You get 6 weeks off unpaid. And as a tech you can talk about 5 months…. part time… maybe…

    Seriously? And the idea of grant places answering “it is not our problem that you want to have children”. Sure enough but then “the government” should not be surprised that the number of children declines in the highly educated sector of women. (As the government do wonder about in my own native country Sweden, with outragous paid paternity leave for 10 month for mother(and or father) and 3 for father (only). But grants are not covered by this. And PhDs are not covered by this. And …well, you get the picture. Even in the wonderous land of paid (80% of your salary) this is not working since the grants are something of their own…

    I stray… I do think that the US might need some more tweaking if the number of females with children in high places is going to increase. Then again, in my old country US is looked upon with envy since you have “so any women who are working as CEOs etc AND having children”….

  6. yet another *sigh* at ‘women in science’ article. I’m sooooooo tired of reading articles reporting the numbers. We’ve got the data. We’ve read it. The news recycles the numbers, gee thanks. Round and round we go.

    I wish articles would generate solutions and get the ball rolling, rather than pointing out the problem, repeatedly. I wish federally funded agencies would enforce Title IX, but those same agencies are run by non-minorities, so I wish for minorities in admin. And because the genie gave me more than 3 wishes, I extra-wish academic depts/search committees/deans would take their heads out of their asses and care about something other than their own interests.

    One professor was talking to me about having made a decision to hire someone for a TT job in the dept. He said something along the lines of “I thought he would be great to work with me on some projects involving X, Y, Z.” I didn’t have the strength to point out that the 50%+ women in the department who are grad and undergrad students would really like some women to collaborate with, to identify with, etc. I bit my tongue (a rare event). This same professor later asked for the phone number of a vet for his dog, and said “what’s his number?” – uhm, the vet is a woman. The professor sheepishly pointed out that he made an assumption around me, the flaming feminist, a big no no. But he didn’t question himself in the conversation earlier that day. He’s tenured and could really affect some change in the dept (and he reads this blog, so maybe I just gave him a cluestick which he might beat me over the head for later).

    In academia, men are deciding that women can’t have it all. The men hold the cards. And they see nothing *wrong* with what they are doing. Their self-interests are good for the majority.

    We need articles and more websites like this one which are pretty informative and descriptive about solutions:

    Women have to be IN the system before they can start to change it.

    Jekyll, your thoughts on maternity leave would be a great blog post. Hope all is going well with the bun in the oven. woot!

  7. jc- I just keep beating people over the head with the ##s. Like you, I am interested in the solutions and implementing the solutions more than I’m interested in the problem. To this end I’m writing this blog, mentoring about everyone junior to me in academia that asks for my help in real life, working within my own institution to implement small fixes here and there when I can, finding the people in the positions of power who can affect changes at a higher level (Federal granting agency), and maybe encouraging the people around me to think about the issues and consider actions in this new light. I’m past the bitterness of having the deck stacked against me, and know it is up to me to do everything in my power to make even a small difference.

  8. And lest we forget, when people assert that “men can have it all”, having a spouse that works independently and equal involvement in raising kids strangely isn’t included in the definition of “all”.

  9. Forgive me if I sound callous, but I don’t understand how personal unmet wants and expectations should or could be solved through legislation. The issue seems far more complicated than passing laws to help women have more kids. What about those of us who don’t want kids? Why should we get less paid vacation time just because we chose not to have children?

    I understand wanting to create a stable and healthy environment for everyone. It just seems to me that the personal lives of scientists should remain personal, and any legislative tampering is a deep rabbit hole to start chasing. Shouldn’t it be up to the individual to manage her/his own personal/professional balance? Do we really want to legislate everything?

  10. Ah Matthew-

    #1. Women don’t generally have ‘more kids’ without the involvement of men.
    #2. Maternity leave or paternity leave for a newborn is more like sick leave and not at all like a ‘vacation’.
    #3. A large # of academic men who have children have wives that stay home and take care of the home and the children. So they are making the same personal choice to have children- but aren’t professionally held back by it. This is the crux of the problem. … consequences for this ‘personal choice’ disproportionately fall on one sex… in general…. although academic men with academic wives and children can also have issues. Myself… well, I have this triple whammy.

    The discussion about whether or not one should have children involves many topics and probably should be had somewhere else. Personally though- I favor more family friendly policies toward everyone- esp. since we claim to be such a family oriented nation. And it is shameful that we don’t have paid maternity leave in this country- we are behind the rest of the industrialized world on this one.

  11. Why should we get less paid vacation time just because we chose not to have children?

    Not to be callous in return, but the continuity of society demands that children be generated and raised to be productive citizens, and if you selfishly choose to shirk your share of this societal burden it is only correct and fitting that you should shoulder some other aspect of societal responsibilities in order for you to be pulling your fair share of the weight.

  12. Thanks for the responses.


    #1 I am aware of how babies are made. The article claims that academic women are more frequently unhappy than men regarding the choice of raising children. I’m just questioning if it’s a good idea to create legislation to solve that problem.

    #2 All paid leave of absence is – for me anyway – the same. I don’t get “sick time” and “vacation time” I just get a set number of days off. I meant no offense by calling maternity leave a “vacation,” but I also didn’t want to offend anyone by calling it sick time either… after all, children aren’t an illness, right? 😉

    #3 Maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see how women are “professionally held back” because of their children. I just see that they are more generally unhappy with their circumstance. I’m just questioning if anyone should enact legislation in attempt to fix what I see as a personal lifestyle choice.


    How exactly did I sign up for this so called “societal burden?” Who decides what is fitting, or how much my “fair share of weight” should be? You? I don’t think the human race is in any jeopardy of extinction should I chose not to procreate. I respectfully reject your burden. I have enough weight to pull on my own… and assure you that my decision was not out of any selfishness, but even if it were, is this not my own life?

  13. DrDrA, the data for #3 above…The link for that website I mentioned before has links about men and women with kids. The Stride program at UMich has suggestions that follow up on the data. For example, page 28 is about positive family approaches and page 15 is about how fathers were seen as ‘more committed’ and were paid higher than non-fathers but mothers were ‘less committed’ and paid less than non-mothers. http://www.umich.edu/~advproj/STRIDE-102708.pdf

    Matthew, I personally feel we’ve been unlegislated too long. Women are spinning their wheels locally, and like doubledoc, I do everything I can for the women I know. I passed a list of blog links to them to read advice and about women’s lives because role models are lacking in meatspace, I help them with grad school applications, we do research projects that teach them new skills, I pass on job ads, write letters, etc. Alot of the women I know are also active in their own little ways, but it’s not enough.

    Whimple, equal involvement in raising kids is a huge issue. Reading FSP over the years, it really hammered home to me that having an equal partner was critical for success of women profs.

  14. Matthew,

    How exactly did I sign up for this so called “societal burden?”
    You were born into it.

    Who decides what is fitting, or how much my “fair share of weight” should be? You?
    No, in this country, your duly elected representatives have this responsibility. I hope they will choose to exercise this authority that they have long abdicated.

    I don’t think the human race is in any jeopardy of extinction should I chose not to procreate. I respectfully reject your burden. I have enough weight to pull on my own… and assure you that my decision was not out of any selfishness, but even if it were, is this not my own life?
    You can make the exact same arguments about paying taxes. It’s not going to hurt the country too much if you just opt out of paying taxes right? You’re aware that there are already tax deductions for children? Having the childless explicitly contribute more to society even in solely monetary terms is very well established, even if radically underutilized.

    Some countries have compulsory national service. You can’t opt out of that either. You may not have signed your name on your society’s social contract, but you are bound by the terms of it nonetheless.

  15. Whimple- We’re more on the love side of the love hate thing today. I am quite sure I could not have said that better.

    jc- I’ll look at the link tomorrow- I’m looking forward to it… possible material for another post?

    Matthew- I don’t think women are unhappy with having children… I think they find it difficult to juggle everything and have an academic career… a successful one. Speaking for myself… of course. This yes, can lead to unhappiness, extreme stress at times, and wondering whether or not it is all worth it to have this job.

    As for being professionally held back- those women that I know that have tenure do not have children, or had them after they got tenure. This is not a choice I see as many men having to make.

  16. Yes, there’s a selective service too. That doesn’t make conscription “correct” or “fitting” either. I didn’t sign up for selective service and I wouldn’t comply with any forced labor program. You’re right that I never signed any contract, but the only reason I’m “bound” by anything is the threat of jail. You call it a social contract. I call it tyranny of the majority.

    Having the childless explicitly contribute more to society even in solely monetary terms is very well established, even if radically underutilized.It’s hardly underutilized. Beyond dependent deductions I pay a heavy fine in property taxes, which go to the local public school district.

    We’re pretty far off topic and maybe this isn’t the best thread to discuss the virtues of a socialist government. As to the original topic, I may agree that maternity leaves are a good thing. Why do we feel compelled to mandate good things? I’m happy to volunteer my time and donate money where I see fit (and I do) I’m happy to hire more females, and I’m happy to give an employee maternity leave. But, I’m not a fan of one size fits all “comply or go to jail” legislation, especially when the proposed legislation is based on how some survey respondents claim to feel about their job and lifestyle choices. These issues are too complex to fix with the mark of a pen. This kind of legislation usually creates more problems than solutions.

  17. Why do we feel compelled to mandate good things?
    Like, um, banking regulations? Why do you think?

  18. Matthew- I don’t really want to get into the children no children fray- but I have got to say just one thing about it because comments like these just drive me NUTS:

    Beyond dependent deductions I pay a heavy fine in property taxes, which go to the local public school district.

    Even if you don’t have children of your own, you personally benefit from having a good public school system. How? Well, maybe you went to public school yourself- I did. And second… ever had an employee that can’t read, write and do basic math???

    If you want to live in a civilized, educated, and prosperous society there are some costs to that that should be borne by everyone for the common good. If you don’t want to live in such a society try living for one day in a place that doesn’t have a functioning system of education…. say …. Afganistan…

  19. I went to a private school at a greatly subsidized rate due to need. But, I did go to a public graduate school, so you got me there.

    I’ll just say that I respectfully disagree. I understand the arguments and I agree that there are benefits of forced labor, taxes, conscription etc. I even agree that in some circumstances it is the best option. I only take issue with the quickness you jump to legislate a solution. It seems hasty to call for a policy change based on how survey respondents claim to feel about their circumstance.

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