How to Encourage Men to Take Family Leave: New Research

Two new studies show that while men are as likely as women to say they need time off from work to care for babies, aging parents, or sick family members, men are less likely than women to take unpaid leave and they take shorter paid leaves than women. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times notes that both new studies find a gulf between men’s desires to be more involved with caregiving and with reality. In other words, men are finding it difficult to balance career and family—something women have known for decades. Even though men are more likely than women to have access to paid leave, they don’t take it or don’t take all that they could. Women, on the other hand, will take unpaid leave because they have to.

Why is this happening? Miller summarizes the two studies as saying that the primary cause of men taking less leave, when it is available, is that when challenges arise with balancing work and family, both women and men tend to resort to traditional roles where men are breadwinners and women are caregivers. These decisions have long-term consequences for women’s careers and account for a large portion of the gender-pay gap.

The first study, a report from the New America summarized by Miller and conducted by the NORC study at the University of Chicago, included a nationally representative sample of 2,966 Americans. They found that men were only slightly less likely to have taken family leave, but when they did, the time off was shorter. Just over half of the men in this study, and slightly more women, reported that one reason men don’t take leave is because “caregiving isn’t manly.”

The second study reported by Miller was conducted by the Boston College Center for Work and Family, which focused on 1,240 white-collar workers at four companies that offer gender-neutral paid leave. This study found widespread support for leave, yet women were much more likely than men to take the full amount of leave offered by their company. Men say they want it, but they don’t take it when it becomes available.

Why? Traditional gender roles are deeply embedded in societal and family cultures. Miller surmises that both family members and people in the workplaces give subtle messages about what is acceptable gender-role behavior—even in workplaces that offer gender-neutral paid family leave—which then affects the decisions of men about whether to take family leave or for how long. Both of the new studies recommend changes that can make a difference in shifting gender-role expectations and encourage men to take family leave:

  • Senior male leaders can be role models who take family leave themselves and talk about being fathers.
  • Men need to see that their male colleagues who take leave are not penalized.
  • Managers need to encourage men to take family leave.
  • Organizations can make full-length paternity leave the default, requiring men to opt out if they want to take less leave.
  • Organizations can put systems in place to help cover the workload of women and men who take family leave.
  • Fathers can be included in parenting groups and flextime policies.

These types of changes in attitudes and structures can make a difference. Without them, traditional gender roles that limit the ability of fathers to have the relationship they want with their children—and that limit the ability of mothers to have full careers—will stay in place.

What else do you think can contribute to changes in gender-role expectations?


Photo by The Honest Company on Unsplash

The Debate Over Universal Childcare: What Is Really Going On?

Have you noticed that we keep talking about universal childcare in the United States, but, with the exception of a handful of states and cities, it never happens? Nearly all of the current Democratic candidates for president are promising it, but this has happened before without legislation ever passing at the federal level. We know that the United States is one of the few Western industrialized nations that does not provide subsidized childcare for working parents. Why not?

Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times writes that the reasons are not economic. She notes that substantial research shows that children and parents benefit from access to affordable or free day care:

  • Women being in the workforce helps the economy and is economically beneficial for families.
  • High quality, affordable, easy-to-find childcare and longer school days result in higher levels of employment for women. In Washington, DC, public (free) prekindergarten increased labor participation of women with young children by 10 percent.
  • The economic benefits of good, affordable childcare for low-income children extends for generations, and spending on it more than pays for itself.

Miller notes, though, that conflicting beliefs in US society create resistance to universal childcare. She describes some examples of the conflicts:

  • Both parents work in two-thirds of American families: 93 percent of fathers and 72 percent of mothers with children at home are in the labor force. Yet one-third of Democrats surveyed by the Pew Research Center say that one parent staying at home is ideal. In another study, nearly half of Americans said one parent should stay home. These statistics conflict with the reality of the lives of Americans.
  • A moral question has resurfaced about whether mothers should work at all. Tucker Carlson of Fox News states, “It is more virtuous [for mothers . . .] to raise your own kids”; in other words, the proper place for mothers is at home with their children.
  • However, poor women, especially black women, have always been expected to work from the time of enslavement to the present, and are denied childcare support or required to work for it when support does exist.
  • Research shows that when subsidized childcare and education are available, the participation of women in the labor force expands, showing that women want and need to work. When childcare costs increase, mothers (more so than fathers) drop out of the workforce. Researchers at the Universities of North Carolina and Maryland note that “you’re boxing women out of the labor market” with the high cost of childcare.

As described by Miller, most women and men who are parents of young children work. Yet Christina Caron of the New York Times notes that the lack of affordable childcare creates a significant financial stress for families. A study by NYT Parenting, based on data collected by YouGov, an international polling and market research firm, found these worrying statistics:

  • Almost 60 percent of parents around the country with children enrolled in preschool or day care reported that the costs created a significant financial strain.
  • Some families had to go into debt to pay childcare expenses.
  • Half of Americans live in places with no licensed childcare providers or very limited slots available.

The moral ambivalence in the United States about whether mothers belong in the home rather than in the workforce is still actively blocking progress on achieving universal childcare. Miller notes that “Americans are more likely to believe in gender equality in work and politics than in the home”—but we can’t have one without the other. It’s time to move on from the moral ambivalence embedded in our culture about mothers working.


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Fathers Want Parental Leave Too

As a coach and consultant, I have known many men in organizations over the years who wanted to take extended parental leave when their children were born but were discouraged from doing so. They saw the careers of their male colleagues who took parental leave derailed. They heard these colleagues discussed as “not committed to the company” and were afraid to ask for leave. Yet Noam Scheiber of the New York Times reminds us that, as Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted in the 1970s when she founded the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU, women will “not achieve equality in the workplace as long as men [are] discouraged from taking on caregiver roles.”

Recent class-action settlements won by fathers against JPMorgan Chase and Estée Lauder are forcing changes in paid parental leave policies, which previously placed the burden of childrearing on the mother. Before the new class-action suits started to put pressure on company policies, many large organizations had discriminatory policies in place:

  • In the case of JPMorgan Chase, mothers were eligible for sixteen weeks of paid parental leave while fathers were offered only two weeks as secondary caregivers.
  • Estée Lauder had a similar policy that discriminated against the fathers of newborns.
  • In 2015, CNN was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for granting biological fathers only two weeks of paid parental leave compared to ten weeks for mothers.

A small number of companies offer long leaves to all new parents. Scheiber notes that “Hewlett Packard Enterprise recently announced that new mothers and fathers would both receive at least six months of paid leave.” Six months is unusually long in the United States. Only a minority of companies offer paid parental leave at all. In a 2018 survey by the Society of Human Resource Managers, 35 percent of respondents offered paid maternity leave, usually for a maximum of six weeks, and just under 30 percent offered paid paternity leave. In addition, only salaried workers have access to any paid parental leave. Low wage and contract workers do not have access to these benefits at all.

While the numbers of companies offering paid parental leave have been rising rapidly in recent years, many men are still reluctant to take advantage of these policies when they do become available because they fear negative repercussions. They need to hear positive stores from other men and encouragement from managers to utilize these policies.

Class-action lawsuits and multimillion-dollar settlements are a great way force change. We are moving in the right direction to support gender-neutral family policies. This is good news for all of us.


Photo by César Abner Martínez Aguilar on Unsplash

Work Has Changed: The Impact on Women

New research, reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times, notes that while American women are more educated than ever, a smaller share of college-educated women in their early forties are working today than a decade ago. In fact, the most educated women face the biggest gender gap in seniority and pay. Miller points out that women aren’t only opting out of careers because of discrimination, a lack of childcare, or a dearth of paid family leave policies. While these factors all contribute, research by sociologists and economists has converged on a new understanding of the way the nature of work has changed and how this change disproportionately impacts women’s careers. Researchers Youngjoo Cha at Indiana University, Kim Weeden at Cornell, and Mauricio Bucca at the European University Institute explain that “new ways of organizing work reproduce old forms of inequality.” Their findings include multiple alarming statistics:

  • In the last two decades, salaried workers have earned more by working long hours. Four decades ago, people who worked fifty hours a week made less per hour than did those who worked forty hours per week. Today, people who overwork—working sixty hours a week or more—are paid a premium and those with round-the-clock availability earn disproportionally more.
  • Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard, notes that overwork is most extreme in managerial jobs and in the greedy professions, such as finance, law and consulting. These professions demand long, inflexible hours—which has canceled out the effects of women’s educational gains.
  • Goldin explains, “Being willing to work 50 percent more doesn’t mean you make 50 percent more, you make like 100 percent more.” Goldin notes that financial rewards for working extra long hours don’t’ have a gender gap, but far fewer women seek such rewards, particularly mothers. Someone has to take care of the children, and usually that person is the mother. She cuts back on her hours, diminishes her future earning potential, flatlines her career, and underutilizes her education so that her spouse can maximize his earning potential for the family by overworking.
  • Men are much more likely to have a spouse who is on call at home. Cha reports that three-quarters of men in the top 1 percent of earners have an at-home spouse. Just one-quarter of women in the top 1 percent of earners do. In dual-earner households in which a man worked sixty or more hours, women were three times as likely to quit their jobs.

Miller points out that highly educated women aren’t the only ones impacted by the changing nature of work. Unpredictable and inflexible hours pose a challenge to family life and careers for same-sex parents, middle-class families, and low-income workers. She notes that researchers have focused on college-educated women because they are most prepared to have big careers, but their careers tend to flatline. In dual-career families with children, when one career takes priority, it is generally the man’s.

Several factors have contributed to the overwork trend affecting women. Technology makes people more accessible at all hours; business has become more global and people are now expected to work across time zones; the wealth gap in society makes people feel less secure; employment is increasingly unstable; work has become more competitive; and working long hours is a status symbol and a way to stand out.

What can be done to change the nature of work? Goldin states that most solutions for how to close the gender gap are merely band-aids because the problem is systemic. She suggests that the very nature of work needs to change, which will only happen if people demand it. Younger men say they want more involvement in family life. Employers want to keep talent and may listen if young men start to quit. Employers may even begin to notice that they are losing out on women’s talents and training by requiring and rewarding only long and inflexible hours.

We need to start a discussion on a national level about the nature of work and how to make it more humane for everyone. Everyone will benefit if work is predictable and flexible and rewards reflect quality instead of quantity of hours, and employers will gain access to talent pools that are not available to them now.


Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Three Reasons Why Women Have More Stress and What They Can Do about It

Brenda is my coaching client, and for two years she almost always began sobbing as soon as we started our coaching sessions. “My stress level is so high,” she would tell me between sobs. “I just can’t go on like this.” Brenda is passionate about her work, is the manager of a team that provides direct services, and is the mother of two young children. “I can’t sleep at night, I am short-tempered with my children and husband, I have no time to see my friends, and I’ve stopped exercising,” she explained to illustrate her stress level.

Unfortunately, Brenda’s experience is not unusual. Kristin Wong of the New York Times writes that a 2016 study published in The Journal of Brain & Behavior shows that women who work are twice as likely to suffer from severe stress and anxiety as men. Why? Wong notes that scholars Dr. Erin Joyce and Silvia Federici offer three reasons:

  1. Women do more unpaid domestic work than men. It’s not that men don’t feel stress in terms of fulfilling responsibilities at home and work, but, Dr. Joyce explains, “the difference . . . is in the nature and scope of these responsibilities in the home environment.” For example, Wong notes, “The United Nations reported that women do nearly three times as much unpaid domestic work as men.”
  2. Women do more emotional labor at home and at work. Wong cites research from Nova Southeastern University showing that women managers are expected to do more “emotional labor,” such as showing calmness and empathy and attending to relationships with employees, even when they don’t feel it or prefer to manage in a more masculine, less relational style. My own research, published in my book New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, found that if women managers do not invest time in emotional labor, they are judged harshly by both women and men in performance reviews and other forms of feedback. Because of socialized gender role expectations, emotional labor is expected of women and not of men in the workplace. Both domestic and emotional labor are exhausting.
  3. Women expect to be able to “do it all” and can feel guilty and even more stressed when they cannot.

            Why do we still have such a large gender gap in unpaid domestic labor? So much has changed over the past fifty years as the opportunities for women in the workforce have expanded. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports, however, that while “Americans have grown increasingly likely to believe that women and men should have equal roles at work . . . a significant share still say that men’s and women’s roles should be different at home.” She cites a new study, soon to be published in Gender and Society, based on a national survey covering data from 1977 to 2016. This study shows that roughly one-quarter of people’s views reflect a different opinion about equality at work versus home. Specifically, the findings reflect a belief that women and men should be equal at work but women should do more of the homemaking and child rearing. Other research reflects that while women are doing more paid work than in the past, men are not doing much more domestic work.

In a global study, Miller reports that the United States was found to have much lower levels of family-friendly policies and supports than in twenty-two comparable English-speaking and European countries. In countries with family-friendly policies and supports, the relative happiness of people with children versus those without is significantly higher than reported for Americans with children. This could be one more reason why American women experience higher levels of severe stress.

Chronic levels of severe stress have potentially dangerous consequences, such as the following:

  • Insomnia.
  • Family conflicts.
  • Guilt.
  • Challenges to heart health, which is affected by disturbed sleep, anxiety, and chronic stress and can lead to heart attacks and early death.

What can women do to deal with severe stress? Wong suggests some approaches to manage and reduce stress:

  • Embrace self-care. Yes, self-care takes time, but the payoff is huge and can be lifesaving. For example, find practices to help you sleep, such as relaxation and breathing exercises, meditation, and journaling. Exercise and eat a healthy diet, which will also help with sleep.
  • Know your stress triggers. Consider a few therapy sessions to help break some old habits and develop new ones.
  • Talk with your partner about more equitable sharing of housework and childcare.
  • Seek validation, an essential form of support. Spend time with other women, either at or outside of work, who can help you remember that you are not crazy, and you are not alone. Share best practices about stress management.

These steps can work. Brenda no longer cries during our coaching sessions because she has been able to get her stress level down. You can, too. What has worked for you?

Photo courtesy of Jira (CC0 1.0)


Good News: Women Are Getting Involved in Politics

Here is a piece of good news for all of us: women’s involvement in politics is skyrocketing.  The ways to get involved are endless, including petitioning Congress, attending meetings and rallies for causes you support, holding elected officials accountable for their votes, registering voters, and running for office.  Running for office can include running for school board, town council, state legislature, governor, or US Congress.  Gail Collins of the New York Times writes that “groups that help prepare women to run for office are reporting an unprecedented number of website visits, training-school sign-ups and meeting attendance.” Why is it good news for all of us that women are preparing to run for office?  Studies show that women, as a group, are better at working with others.  Collins points out that female senators in Washington have regular bipartisan dinners, while I have observed that the men, even those in the same party, cannot work together or agree.  In the recent past, women senators were able to work together, across the aisle, to move stalled legislation forward. Brittany Bronson of the New York Times mentions the state of Nevada as a case study of the positive impact for everyone when women are well represented in legislative bodies. Bronson explains that with women making up 39.7 percent of Nevada’s lawmakers, the state ranks second only to Vermont in women’s representation in state politics. This translates to a focus on issues important to women that are usually ignored by male legislators, such as family-friendly policies in the workplace, the gender wage gap, and the “pink tax”—the extra amount women are charged for feminine hygiene products. The female legislators of Nevada have also sponsored legislation supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and eliminating copays for contraception. Collins notes that if more women get into office, “it’ll be about time.”  She explains:

  • Women hold under 25 percent of the seats in the nation’s state legislatures.
  • Women hold just under 20 percent of the seats in Congress.
  • There are only six women governors.
  • We have never had a woman president.
Encourage the women you know to run for office, or run for office yourself.  Support and vote for women, and get involved in any way you can.  The more women are engaged in politics, the better it will be for all of us.   Photo courtesy of businessforward. (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Daughter Care: The Cost to Women of Long-term Care

My sister and I took care of our mother during the last months of her life. She developed fast-growing brain tumors and, mercifully, was incapacitated and bedridden for only a few months before she passed away. We quickly became exhausted and unable to physically care for her without professional help as she declined. It was a shock to discover how expensive it is to hire home health support and how little the long-term care insurance, for which she had been paying over decades, would reimburse. None of us had the financial means to pay for much support for very long. She passed quickly, but a family can rapidly become financially drained trying to care for family members. Realistically, women pay the biggest price for both elder care and childcare—as unpaid family caregivers. Roni Caryn Rabin of the New York Times writes that, as our population ages, “the essential role that daughters play in the American healthcare system is well known but has received little attention.” Rabin notes that a crisis is emerging for women and their employers as the population ages and the number of dementia patients increases. Rabin cites a recent report in JAMA Neurology that states that, “by 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older, and the number of older Americans living with dementia is expected to increase to 8.5 million, up from 5.5 million now.” Rabin notes that while more men have gotten involved with some care giving for older adults, the burden is not shared equally and disproportionately falls on daughters and female spouses for care of parents and in-laws. What are the costs of unpaid care giving for women? Rabin reveals the following:

  • A report from the Alzheimer’s Association states that employed women who are caregivers are seven times more likely than men to cut down from full-time to part-time employment because of care-giving duties.
  • Women are more likely to take a leave of absence from work and lose employment benefits.
  • Women are more likely to be penalized at work, or forced to quit, because of care-giving responsibilities.
  • Women are more likely to lose opportunities for advancement, retirement funding, and their ability to send kids to college because of elder-care responsibilities.
Liz O’Donnell, writing for the online journal Cogniscenti, offers this advice to daughters who are caregivers:
  • Don’t quit. The job market for women over fifty is not promising.
  • Hang in and continue to build your skills and network.
  • Protect your career and your family member.
In a previous article, I wrote about the negative impact on women’s employment levels due to care-giving responsibilities. We need comprehensive family support policies such as those available in Europe for affordable childcare, paid family leave and elder-care support. Family support policies are good for all of us and for our economy.   Photo courtesy of Chad Miller. CC by-sa 2.0  ]]>

Help Women Work to Bolster Our Economy

Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve, keeps a close eye on the United States economy. One of the concerns of the Federal Reserve since the Great Recession (officially 2007–2009) has been the sluggish rate of overall economic growth in the United States, which impacts the well-being of all of us. In a recent speech, reported by Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times, Chair Yellen said that policies making it easier for women to work could significantly improve the nation’s economic growth. She suggests three policy areas that would make it easier for women to participate in the labor market:

  • Expand the availability of paid leave.
  • Make affordable child care available.
  • Make flexible work schedules more available.
Yellen notes that raising women’s participation in the workforce to the same level as men’s could increase annual economic output by 5 percent. The fact is that, since the early 1990s, women’s level of participation in the workforce has been falling in the United States. Appelbaum notes that a recent study by Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, both of Cornell University, found that the United States has fallen to seventeenth place out of twenty-two developed nations in women’s workplace participation. The researchers attribute the decline in workforce participation by women to a lack of government policies. They suggest that the United States should adopt European policies on paid leave and affordable child care to close the employment gap. Yellen noted in her speech that we are squandering “the potential of many of our citizens and (will) incur substantial loss to the productive capacity of our economy” if we do not make it easier for women to work. Why don’t we have the same level of government support for working women and men in the United States as is available in Europe? Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times  notes that while Americans agree that paid family leave should be available to workers to take care of a new baby or a sick family member, we cannot agree on who should pay for it, or whether it should be mandatory or voluntary. Miller cites a recent Pew Foundation report showing that 94 percent of Americans say paid leave would help families, 65 percent say that paid leave would help the economy, and 67–87 percent support paid leave being available. However, Miller notes that Americans are torn about gender roles and also about whether paid leave should be a government mandate or offered voluntarily by businesses. She notes that
  • Some Americans feel a massive distrust of mandatory government policies; 69 percent of Democrats support a government mandate for paid leave, while only 33 percent of Republicans do.
  • US culture shows deep ambivalence about gender roles; a majority of Republicans feel it is not in the best interest of families for women to work outside of the home.
Unfortunately, the people who most need to work are the most affected by the lack of government policies that support working families. Low-income workers (including women, blacks, Hispanics, and those without a college degree) are often thrown into poverty when a baby is born or a family member is ill and the worker must take time off. Workers lose income and also can lose their jobs. Workers, families, and our economy will all benefit from mandated family leave and the availability of affordable child care. The United States is the only industrialized country that does not mandate paid leave. Shame on us. We must find the will to do this for the greater good. What are your thoughts?   Photo courtesy of Katrinaelsl. CC by-nd 2.0]]>

Insights from New Research on the Gender Wage Gap

My niece just had a baby and is worried about being paid less than her male peers. She is an engineer with solid work experience on her resume, and she intends to return to work full time. She wants answers from me about how to avoid becoming a victim of the gender wage gap. Unfortunately, new research reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reinforces that, as a new mother in her late twenties with a college degree and a professional career, she is poised to become a wage gap statistic. I don’t know what to tell her about how to avoid this. Because most companies keep salary data secret, she will probably only be able to suspect unfair treatment but will not be able to prove it. The odds, and statistics, are stacked against her. Miller reports on two new studies on the gender wage gap that sharpen our understanding of what is happening to women’s pay, when it’s happening, and why. The studies, conducted by Sari Kerr of Wellesley College in collaboration with several female colleagues at other universities, combine two databases from the Census Bureau on private sector companies that reveal fresh nuances in the gender wage gap picture:

  • The gender wage gap is wider for college-educated women than for those with no college degree and occurs between the ages of twenty-four and forty-five.
  • College-educated women make 90 percent as much as men their age at twenty-five, but only 55 percent as much by the age of forty-five.
  • Men with college degrees get significant pay increases when they change jobs during those years. When married women change jobs, they are less likely to get big pay increases.
  • Miller cites Kerr as explaining that the bulk of the pay gap, accounting for fully 73 percent of the gap, is from “women not getting raises and promotions at the same rate as men within companies. Seniority and experience seem to pay off much more for men than women.”
  • The wage gap is not as wide for women without college degrees. The gap for this group is 28 percent instead of 55 percent because there are fewer high paying jobs available for men without college degrees to create the larger gap.
Why does the wage gap happen? Miller cites Kerr’s report to explain:
  • High-paying jobs requiring college degrees place more value on long, inflexible hours and face time. Because studies show that the division of labor at home is still unequal, even when both spouses work full time, women’s careers tend to suffer.
  • Women are more likely to give up job opportunities in favor of their husband’s job.
  • Even when women continue to work full time after having children, employers pay them less because they assume women are less committed.
  • When mothers cut back on their hours, their pay is disproportionately cut.
What can be done to achieve pay equity? Miller suggests some workplace and policy changes needed to break the wage gap cycle:
  • Companies can put less priority on long hours and face time in the office and reward results instead.
  • Government-subsidized child care can make it possible for both parents to balance the demands of career and family.
  • Companies should offer moderate-length parental leave for both women and men. (While my niece received a three-month maternity leave, her husband’s company allowed only three days for paternity leave.)
  • Companies need to be transparent about salary data.
I wish I had specific guidance to offer my niece, but I don’t. We are all going to have to continue to push for policy changes that will make equity possible. In the meantime, I hope she keeps fighting for fairness and does not get discouraged. What suggestions do you have for young women who want pay equity? Photo courtesy of Skeddy in NYC. CC by 2.0  ]]>

Gender-Neutral Family-Friendly Policies: The Unintended Consequences for Women

Where are the senior women scholars? Universities have been concerned about the underrepresentation of women at senior tenured levels for more than twenty years, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. I wrote about several studies seeking to explain this dearth of senior women scholars in a previous article. In response to the underrepresentation of women, many of these institutions implemented gender-neutral family-friendly policies in the 1990s. Justin Wolfers, an economist writing for the New York Times, reports new research on the careers of economists in the United States that shows surprising, unintended consequences of these policies for female economists. Wolfers reports that in fact, some gender-neutral policies have advanced the careers of male economists at the expense of women’s careers, which is probably also true in other disciplines. The specific gender-neutral policy under investigation here is the tenure extension policy, which grants one extra year to the seven-year tenure process to both women and men for each child. The intention of this policy is to create some family-friendly flexibility in the early years of an academic career, when the pressure to achieve tenure (publish or perish) in order to keep an academic job collides with the years when young women and men are ready to start families. Wolfers reports that new research by three economists—Heather Antecol, Kelly Bedard, and Jenna Stearns—shows a significant differential impact of the tenure extension policy on the careers of women and men. These researchers compiled data on all untenured economists hired over the past twenty years at fifty leading economics departments. They then compared promotion rates at institutions with tenure extension policies to those without them. This is what they found:

  • Tenure extension policies resulted in a 19-point rise in the probability that a male economist would earn tenure at his first job.
  • In contrast, women’s chances of gaining tenure at their first jobs fell by 22 percent.
  • Before the implementation of tenure extension, a little less than 30 percent of both women and men at these same institutions gained tenure at their first jobs. Consequently, the new policy significantly decreased the number of women receiving tenure.
One of the main flaws in the logic behind the gender-neutral tenure extension policy is that women and men experience the same distractions from their writing and research after the birth of a child. Wolfers cites Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the University of Michigan’s business school, as saying, “Giving birth is not a gender-neutral event.” Wolfers goes on to observe that “women receive parental benefits only after bearing the burden of pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and often, a larger share of parenting responsibilities. Yet fathers usually receive the same benefits without bearing anything close to the same burden.” In fact, the study authors found that men who took tenure extension used the extra year to publish their research, resulting in higher tenure rates. No parallel rise in publication rates was seen for female economists. One of the study authors, J. Stearns, cautions that not all gender-neutral family policies are harmful. She notes that standard parental leave policies for both parents have reduced the stigma for women. Let’s note that it took female economists to uncover the harmful impact of this tenure extension policy on women—and there are not many female economists. What other unintended consequences could be negatively accruing for women from well-intentioned family-focused policies? What else might we be discovering if we had more female economists asking these questions? Do you have experiences or thoughts about the possible unfair impact of employment policies where you work? Let me know.   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of anekarinebraga.]]>