Female professors less likely to have children

Australian survey suggests women pay a higher career penalty when they become parents

May 8, 2014

Female professors in Australia are far less likely to have children than their male counterparts, despite the introduction of family-friendly employment practices.

Just under a quarter of female professors in Australia (24 per cent) had one or more dependent children compared with 34 per cent of male professors, according to academics at the University of Queensland.

That difference is also evident at associate professor level, with 32 per cent of women having a dependent child compared with 48 per cent of men. Based on a nationwide staff survey conducted in 2011, the analysis by Gillian Whitehouse, professor of political science, and postgraduate researcher Michelle Nesic was presented at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference at the University of Leeds last month.

The study suggests that motherhood appeared to act as a far more powerful brake on women’s careers than fatherhood did on men’s, even when the results were controlled for age, tenure and contract type, the authors say. That trend arose despite the fact that Australian universities have been particularly proactive in introducing family supportive policies that sought to limit the career penalties of parenthood, said Professor Whitehouse.

But the Work and Careers in Australian Universities survey run by Griffith University showed that policies had also “reaffirmed gendered divisions of labour”.

“Men were more likely than women to be refused requests for shorter hours working arrangements, while women were considerably more likely to report that their caring responsibilities were associated with missed opportunities for career progression, particularly for travel and conference attendance opportunities,” she said.

“These findings underline the potentially complex effects of family supportive policies and their capacity to consolidate as much as challenge gender differences,” said Professor Whitehouse.


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