Economists confirm existence of glass ceiling for women academics

Study says 25 per cent of the gender gap in career progression is unexplained, writes Melanie Newman

March 27, 2008

Female academics hit a glass ceiling in their careers, where their failure to gain promotion or pay rises simply cannot be explained by their age, subject or roles, new research has indicated.

Universities are less likely to appoint female chairs and research institutes are less likely to promote women to postdoctoral posts, according to a paper presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference last week.

Sara Connolly and Susan Long of the University of East Anglia's School of Economics found that 25 per cent of the gender gap in promotion from senior lecturer to professor cannot be explained.

They state: "There is evidence of grade gaps which cannot be attributed to grade, age, subject, roles or responsibilities ... Female scientists in the UK do face glass ceilings, although they arise at different stages in careers in higher education and research institutes."

In universities, women face most discrimination at the top of the scale, in progressing from senior lecturer to professorship. Conversely, in research institutes women have more difficulty lower down the scale, in moving from postdoctoral scientists to senior scientists.

Women scientists must achieve more than men to be promoted within institutions, the study found.

While their research did not corroborate earlier findings that motherhood has a negative impact on career progression, the authors found that women who took career breaks and part-time employment were less likely to be promoted.

"We also have evidence that many women may attempt to reconcile these demands by delaying or even opting against motherhood," the authors say. While 42 per cent of women in the sample did not have children, only 23 per cent of men were childless.

  • The Royal Economic Society's conference also heard that the negative effect on students who skip classes is more marked among the most able students.

A team led by Wiji Arulampalam, professor of economics at the University of Warwick, studied the relationship between absence from class and performance among 444 second-year economics undergraduates at Warwick.

"The evidence is consistent with the view that class attendance is a productive activity for all students," the authors state. They suggest that attendance "is particularly productive for better performing students. It might then be appropriate to reflect on the nature of teaching and learning characteristics of classes with a view to enhancing their effectiveness for weaker students."

On average, students missed 11 per cent of tutorials. Overall performance was lower for those who missed more classes and the effect of missing them was most significant for the most able.

The study also found that students who performed well in a course in their first year tended to have lower absenteeism in the second year. Female students missed fewer classes than their male peers, and overseas students missed more classes than home students.

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