A study in Science Advances has reported on how gendered expectations and policies regarding parenthood are impacting women in academia. The study, led by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, reports that women experience a 20 percent drop in productivity after having a child compared to when men become fathers.
The work was based on detailed data analysis – including the timing of parenthood and publication data up to 2018 from 3064 faculty members at 450 computer science, history, and business departments across the United States and Canada. It also included institution-specific parental leave policies. It turns out that despite these policies being key to women’s career prospects, 43 percent of those institutions have no such policies.
"Gender differences around parenthood are still driving decreases in women's productivity, and while leave policies are very important for women in choosing their jobs, they are often either missing or incredibly hard to navigate," lead author Allison Morgan, a graduate researcher at UC Boulder, said in a statement.
The analysis shows that mothers tend to produce 20 percent fewer papers in the years following childbirth, while the average result shows no such thing happening to new fathers. There is no other drop in the average productivity between men and women in early career stages.
This gap between mothers and fathers has shrunk since the year 2000 thanks to better parental leave policy and men doing more to raise children – but it is still there, and more work needs to be done to support women in academia.
"This study shows that the vast part of the productivity gap between men and women is caused by parenthood and the associated duties, which are for natural and social reasons much larger for women than for men," explained coauthor Mirta Galesic, a professor at the Santa Fe Institute. "But it also shows that this parenthood penalty has been shrinking as mothers are becoming more productive."
The study was conducted on data from before the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is likely that the disparity between men and women has worsened over the last year. Lockdowns have required many people to completely restructure their day-to-day life, juggling professional responsibilities with the home-schooling of their children.
Women are expected to pick up these responsibilities more than men, and it has led to fewer papers being published by women during the 2020 lockdown. Papers are key for career advancement, so the last 12 months will have an impact on women in academia for years to come.