The academic cost of parenthood

“Career progress relative to opportunity: how many papers is a baby ‘worth’?”

Natascha Klocker, University of Wollongong
Danielle Drozdzewski, University of New South Wales

How many papers is a baby ‘worth’? We were prompted to ask this provocative question by recent experiences, working on appointment committees and writing research grants in Australia, where provisions to quantify research track-records ‘relative to opportunity’ call
for applicants to explain how fluctuations in their publication outputs have been impacted by ‘career interruptions’ such as childbearing. In this age of the increasingly neoliberal university—where every activity, output, and impact is audited (Castree, 2000; 2006)—our commentary seeks to question how decision makers account (or not) for the career impacts
of having children.

Our interest in this issue is both personal and political. We are both female early-career researchers and each of us had our first (and currently, only) child within one year of attaining
our doctorates. One of us has a continuing/tenured position at an Australian university; the other is on a fixed-term contract. The demands on our time have been stretched considerably since starting our families; and an acute watchfulness of output and productivity is never far
from our minds. We worry about not being able to keep up with the expected pace of publishing, gaining grants, and teaching in between, thus remaining competitive and employable. Of course, we are not the first academics to feel like this. Well-documented coping strategies
adopted by female (and some male) academics include: waiting until tenured before having children or not having children at all, timing children to fit the academic calendar, working part-time, increasing research collaborations, hiding caring responsibilities, sleeping less,
sacrificing personal lives and, for some, moving into the ‘second tier’ (1) or opting out of academia altogether. It is against the backdrop of such prospects, and in the spirit of finding ways to incorporate parental responsibilities into the expectations of academic labour, that we find ourselves taking seriously the seemingly callous question of how many outputs childbearing might be ‘worth’ within the academic workplace.

See more here.

From Environment and Planning A 2012, volume 44, pages 1271 – 1277