The Marriage Factor

Female historians who are married move to full professor at a slower pace than their single colleagues, new study finds. For male historians, a spouse appears to speed up promotion.

January 3, 2013

Marriage appears to speed up the advancement of male historians but slow down that of female historians, according to new data from the American Historical Association.

The new study by Robert B. Townsend, deputy director of the AHA (available to association members here), comes from a survey of 2,240 associate and full professors of history. Last month the association released the first part of the study, saving the analysis of gender issues for this month.

One of the issues debated in many disciplines has been the slow path of promotion from associate to full professor for women as compared to men. The new data from the AHA suggest that marriage has a different impact on men and women in the history profession.

Female full professors in the survey who either were married at the time of the survey or who had been married took an average of 7.8 years to move from associate to full professor. Women who had never married were promoted to full professor in an average of 6.7 years. For men, the impact of marriage was the opposite. Men who were or had been married earned their promotions to full professor 5.9 years after becoming associate professors. For men who had never married, it took an average of 6.4 years.

The data also point to other differences in the partnering patterns of male and female history professors.

Women in the survey who were married or in a committed relationship were much more likely than the men in the survey to have a spouse or partner with a doctoral degree (54.7 percent to 30.9 percent). Not surprisingly given the patterns with doctoral partners, the women who were married or in a committed relationship were also much more likely than men to have a partner working in academe (49.6 percent to 36.3 percent).

The female professors in the survey also appear to be making more career sacrifices for family-related reasons than the men:

  • 25.6 percent of women history professors said that they had taken a leave following the birth of a child, while only 3.4 percent of male professors had done so.
  • 8.3 percent of women history professors said that they had taken a leave for child-care reasons, while only 4.8 percent of male professors had done so.
  • At both the associate and full professor levels, female historians report spending more time on child or elder care than do male historians. At the associate professor level, women do 13.6 hours a week compared to men's 9.1 hours. At the full professor level, the gap is 5.2 hours a week compared to 2.9 hours a week. (The study found men and women in history devoting similar amounts of time to professional work.)
  • Women were also more likely to leave a position in order to support their spouse or partner's career — with 5.7 percent of the female professors reporting that they had left a position to support their spouse or partner's career. Only 2 percent of male professors had done so.

Another finding on marriage patterns: Almost twice as many of the female senior professors reported their marital status as divorced or separated as did male professors (11.8 percent to 5.6 percent). And women in the survey were more likely than men to have never married (13.5 percent vs. 4.9 percent).

Perceptions About Fairness and Priorities

The study also found that men and women in history think differently about the importance of gender balance in departments, and about departmental fairness.

While 40.5 percent of the women respondents cited gender balance as a priority when looking at a department as a place of employment, only 17.2 percent of the male respondents said the same.

Asked about the statement "Female faculty members are treated fairly at this institution," 84.7 percent of the male history professors agreed. But only 55.4 percent of female history professors did.


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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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