Disparate Burden

New data show just how unequally child-care responsibilities fall on male and female professors.
March 21, 2005

This probably won't shock many women, but female professors with children spend much more time on family care duties than do their male counterparts -- even among young professors who grew up with the idea of gender equality.

University of California researchers surveyed thousands of faculty members throughout the system's campuses on the number of hours they spent providing care of any sort for their families. They previously released general data confirming conventional wisdom: that women have more care burdens than men.

But additional data presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for Higher Education compared hours spent on care by male and female faculty members of the same age groups, and with the same status of being a parent or not being one.

The following table shows that while gaps are minimal between men and women without children, they are significant for men and women with children:

Hours Spent on Family Care, by Age

Demographic group Under 34 34-38 38-42 42-46
Women with children 37 43 38 34
Men with children 25 21 23 19
Women without children   6 10   7   8
Men without children   8   7   7 10

Marc Goulden, a researcher for the University of California, said that the data pointed to a shortcoming of many policies adopted by colleges to help parents. The policies tend to focus on the time demands on new parents, but ignore the reality that time demands are as great or greater when kids start to grow up as when they are babies.

"Policies that look only at babies are missing the care load of later years," Goulden said.

As faculty members age, family care hours spent by male and female professors converge, but parity for professors with children does not come until they are about 60 years old, the California data suggest.

Goulden reviewed data showing that while males no longer dominate the pool of new Ph.D.'s. In 1978, 68 percent of new Ph.D.'s were white men, but by 2003, only 40 percent were.

In that environment, he said, "family friendly policies are essential to the health of a university."

Another researcher at the same session at the AAHE meeting discussed problems facing women when they have babies. Lisa E. Wolf-Wendel, of the University of Kansas, said that she has been conducting in-depth interviews with female professors with children under the age of 5. The professors come from a wide range of institutions.

Among her findings:

  • Female professors preparing for family leave feel they must take the initiative and propose not only their leave, but arrangements for covering their courses. "They had to negotiate the deal."
  • Many women have little knowledge of institutional policies that may exist to help them, and many hesitate to use those policies for fear of offending colleagues who may later vote on their tenure or promotion.
  • The role of the department chair is key to these women working out successful leaves.


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