Surprise! Babies can harm the careers of academic women

According to Inside Higher Ed, a recent landmark study on the affect of babies on academic careers reveals that – surprise! – baby-having often has negative affects on the careers of academic women, and for academic men. . .yeah, not so much.

Do babies matter to academic careers? It’s a question three researchers have spent a decade answering, and their findings are now available in what may be the most comprehensive look at gender, family and academe ever published. (Spoiler alert: the answer is “yes.”)

The book, Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, out this month from Rutgers University Press, includes new studies and builds on existing data about the effects of childbearing and rearing on men’s and women’s careers in higher education, from graduate school to retirement. Written by long-term collaborators Mary Anne Mason, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley; Nicholas Wolfinger, associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah; and Marc Goulden, director of data initiatives at Berkeley, the work also looks at the effects of successful careers in academe on professors’ personal lives. It makes the case for more family-friendly institutional policies, arguing that such initiatives ultimately could save money for colleges by reducing “brain drain,” and includes best practices from real institutions trying to even out the playing field both for mothers and fathers who want better work-life balance.

I took issue, though, with this quote from Prof. Marc Goulden (Berkeley), one of the primary researchers:

Furthermore, academic women who advance through the faculty ranks have historically paid a considerable price for doing so, in the form of much lower rates of family formation, fertility, and higher rates of family dissolution.

Unless they’ve done detailed interviews with academic women about their hopes, dreams, desires, and plans (which it doesn’t seem at a glance that they have [EDIT: Nope, my bad, they did conduct interviews – see the comment from Prof. Wolfinger. I stand by not liking the implication of the quote, though.]) then it’s a gross mistake to assume that “lower rates of family formation [and] fertility” are automatically academic women somehow “paying a price”. Some women just don’t want children. Some women just don’t want a traditional family structure. And it wouldn’t surprise me if these women are over-represented in academia