November 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 8

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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.

Scholarly Publications


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Publications play a paramount role in the academic careers of sociologists, leading them to tenure status, promotions, and other scholarly recognition. Prior research in other disciplines shows that gender differences in productivity exist and therefore hinder women from advancing through the academic ranks at the same pace as men. For example, sociologists Yu Xie and Kimberlee Shauman’s research shows that women scientists were producing less than their male counterparts as a result of institutional structural disadvantages, but they also found that these gender differences had decreased over the years. The PhD+10 survey finds no statistically significant difference in publications by parental status for men or women. Respondents were asked about the numbers of books, book chapters, refereed journal articles, and technical and research reports that they had published. The median number of total publications is 17 among men and women who have children and for childless men. Women without children published less than other men and women, with a median of 13 publications (see Figure 1).

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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Gaining tenure is the most important early career goal in academic disciplines including sociology. Although fathers in this cohort are the most likely group to report gaining tenure (77%), they are closely followed by mothers (72%) (see Figure 2). Childless men and women are less likely to report gaining tenure, in part because they are more likely to be in positions for which there is no tenure. Fathers and mothers are equally likely to be on the tenure track but not yet tenured (about 12%). Childless men are the most likely group to still be on the tenure track (18%). Although the majority of childless women and men have gained tenure, mothers and fathers appear to advance to tenure status earlier in their careers. This is in part because they are more likely to be in tenure-track positions and perhaps because they publish more than childless men and women.

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 New research briefs with further quantitative and qualitative data from the PhD+10 survey will soon be available online. small_green


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.


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