Success of Women
with Children in Sociology
by Nicole Van Vooren and Roberta Spalter-Roth, ASA Research and Development Department
Research from the ASA finds no statistically significant difference between sociologists with children and their childless peers in terms of productivity. Data from ASA’s most recent analysis of sociology PhD recipients’ responses to a longitudinal survey reveal no significant differences between mothers and fathers and childless men and childless women in terms of scholarly productivity and career trajectories. These findings—from a cohort who received their PhDs between June 1996 and August 1997—are based on responses by those employed in institutions of higher education, though not necessarily faculty members, to the most recent wave of the longitudinal survey (the PhD+10). The survey was supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Mothers (and many fathers) responding to closed-ended survey questions describe the conflicting demands of the two "greedy institutions" (academic life and family life) difficult to juggle. Yet, the survey’s quantitative data show that they have done so fairly successfully. This is in contrast to prior research, such as by Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden (2004), that found that academic women with children fall behind men in terms of career trajectories and productivity. The survey findings are based on responses by 50 percent of the original cohort (435 respondents) with women more likely to respond than men. Those who have continued to respond to the survey since it began (1998) may be the more successful members of the cohort and thus results may be biased in an upward direction.
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Mothers and fathers appear to be more productive than childless men and women in the 10 years following the completion of their PhD, although the differences are not significant. About 22 percent of mothers and fathers had 29 or more publications compared to about 18 percent of childless women and men who published as much. Childless women published the least, with 35 percent who had one to seven publications, compared to about 16 percent of mothers, fathers, and childless men.
The largest majority of respondents (80%) reported having published in a peer-reviewed journal regardless of gendered parental status. Mothers and fathers published an average of 10 peer-reviewed journal articles since obtaining their PhD, which was slightly more than childless men and women who published an average of 9.5 articles. This difference was not statistically significant. These data show that mothers have kept pace with the publication rate of fathers, and more than kept pace with the publications of childless men and women.
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Female sociologists with children appear to have done relatively well in their careers in comparison to the other gender/parental status groups. These positive findings contrast to the findings in other science disciplines. For more information about this cohort, see the study’s research briefs at www.asanet.org/cs/root/leftnav/research_and_stats/research_index_page. New research briefs with further quantitative and qualitative data from the PhD+10 survey will soon be available online.
Mason, Mary Ann and Marc Goulden. 2004. "Marriage and Baby Blues: Redefining Gender Equity in the Academy," in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 596:86-103.
Xie, Yu and Kimberlee A. Shauman. 1998. "Sex Differences in Research Productivity: New Evidence about an Old Puzzle." American Sociological Review 63(6):847-70.