Marriage a disadvantage for female academics, suggests study

A new report from the American Historical Association provides fresh evidence of the impact of marital status and gender on academic careers.

January 27, 2013

Deputy director Robert Townsend surveyed over 2,000 history professors and released his analysis of the data earlier this month in Perspectives on History. The figures, he writes in “Gender and Success in Academia”, provide “ample evidence that women and men often take separate journeys to the upper ranks of academia”.

While men who were married or had once been married won promotion from associate to full professor slightly faster than those who remained single (6.4 versus 5.9 years), the pattern for women was reversed. Those who had never been married were promoted in an average of 6.7 years. For those now or once married, it took an extra 1.1 years to make the same step.

There were also significant differences in the ways the male and female professors used their time.

Dr Townsend notes that “women historians reported a much larger allocation of time to child and elder care than their male counterparts” (13.6 versus 9.1 hours per week, in the case of associate professors).

Women “also allocated about 10 percent more of their time to teaching and instruction-related activities”, while “male historians reported spending significantly more time per week on research” - often the key to fast-track promotion.

Satisfaction levels also revealed an interesting pattern.

In areas such as job security where satisfaction is generally high, Dr Townsend found little difference between the two sexes. Yet “on questions where at least 10 percent of the male respondents indicated some level of dissatisfaction [eg opportunities for job advancement within their institution], women reported significantly higher levels of dissatisfaction”.

One respondent put the blame on “a department culture that valued ‘civility’…used as a way of silencing female professors with ideas about new ways of getting things done”.

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