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Margin Notes

The “baby gap” in academia


The recently released Enquête sur le corps professoral québécois : faits saillants et questions, published by the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université (FQPPU), presents an interesting snapshot of the current state of Quebec’s professors. University Affairs has a news story on the report elsewhere on our site, but what I wanted to focus on here was a graph (Graph 16, see below) about the effect that being a university professor has on childbearing.

I suppose the good news is that nearly two-thirds of women academics said their job had no influence on their childbearing decisions. However, one quarter said it influenced them to have fewer children, and more than eight percent said it pushed them to have no children at all.

Looking at other data, it appears this “baby gap” affects women university professors more than other women professionals. According to the 2004 Ivory Towers – Feminist Audit published by the Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 49.6 percent of academic women aged 35-39 had no children under 12 in the home – from which we can presume they put off childbearing, at least for now. This compares to 45.6 percent of all women with PhDs, 42.3 percent of women lawyers, and 33 percent of women physicians.

This is perhaps not surprising. In a much-cited 2003 paper, Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden at the University of California, Berkeley, showed that having children, especially “early babies,” is a disadvantage for women’s professional careers – but an advantage for men’s. They found that women with babies are 29 percent less likely than women without children to enter a tenure-track position.

How did we get to this sad state of affairs?

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is a former editor of University Affairs.
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