The study, "Equal but Inequitable: Who Benefits From Gender-Neutral Tenure Clock Stopping Policies?" was conducted in a limited subset of higher education: economics departments ranked among the top 50 in the United States. These are all departments that place a large emphasis on research. But the results are striking, and likely to alarm advocates for women in academe across a range of institutions.The study's focus on tenure outcomes at highly-regarded economics departments is salient. Economics has a pretty good match of tenure-line openings and Ph.D. completions. But there is very much a pecking order of departments and journals, and the strategy of getting a lot of Minimally Publishable Units into archival journals will not win you tenure at the fifty departments claiming to be among the top twenty. Justin Wolfers, of Michigan, explains.
The study was conducted by Heather Antecol of Claremont McKenna College, and Kelly Bedard and Jenna Stearns of the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was published by the Institute for the Study of Labor, a German research organization.
The study included data from 49 top economics departments and examined the impact of clock-stopping policies that are open (as has become the norm) to both male and female professors who become parents. Stopping the clock typically involves giving tenure candidates an extra year before they are evaluated for tenure. Notably, stopping the clock does not require a leave of absence, so the extra time covers a period when faculty members are in many cases working and being paid. The study was based on data about 1,299 assistant professors hired by these departments between 1985 and 2004.
The findings are based on comparing the tenure rates for male and female candidates before and after adopting clock-stopping policies that cover all faculty members who have a child. At these universities, only a minority of men and women were earning tenure prior to the adoption of the policies -- so earning tenure was not a given for anyone.
The bombshell finding was that, when comparing candidates for tenure, the success rate for male candidates increased by 19.4 percentage points after stopping the clock was offered. For women, the rate fell by 22.4 percentage points. (Many appeared to go on to win tenure at institutions whose economics departments were not as highly ranked as those where they started.) While each tenure case is unique, the authors did not find other changes in tenure policies to explain the numbers.
To succeed at top universities, academics must finish graduate school, find a job as an assistant professor and then race to establish themselves as world-class researchers before being evaluated for tenure. Succeed within seven years and you have a job for life. Fall short, and you’re fired.I wonder how relevant that "male academics supported by stay-at-home wives" is any more. There's a reason most academic novels are set in the English department, or someplace related -- that's where the wife-beaters and neurotics are, but one positive development of Sixties style feminism was the encouragement of young women to aspire to anything, and that likely contributes to the two-career and two-body challenges; thus the ambitious women will favor supportive men. But the coincidence of launching career and peak fertility poses a new challenge, one that the old sexual division of labor didn't face.
It can be a particularly difficult path for women, for whom this career pressure typically coincides with prime childbearing years. Making matters worse, while many early-career male academics are supported by stay-at-home wives, women more typically wed husbands with their own professional career pressures.
To combat these disparities, many universities have adopted tenure-extension policies that give new parents greater flexibility. Typically, this means extending the seven-year period of tenure evaluation, usually by an extra year for each child. In practice, these policies are usually gender-neutral, giving dads an extra year to establish their reputations, just like moms.What comes next is no surprise.
They found that men who took parental leave used the extra year to publish their research, amassing impressive publication records. But there was no parallel rise in the output of female economists.Giving birth is not gender-neutral. Duh. But the strategy the successful men used is available to the women. Back to the Inside Higher Ed report.
Perhaps this reflects the physical toll of pregnancy, the difficulties of a complicated birth, the extra task of nursing or simply an unwillingness to shirk parenting duties. Whatever the cause, the findings are exactly what you would have expected if becoming a parent exacted a greater career sacrifice for women than men. By giving men a relative advantage, these gender-neutral policies appear to have effectively raised the tenure bar for women.
In economics, journal articles are the coin of the realm in tenure decisions, and top-ranked departments pay a lot of attention to which journals publish an assistant professor. The paper defines the top five journals as American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics and Review of Economic Studies.Without time diaries, we have no way of knowing whether Economist Dad, up to feed or change or soothe the baby, doesn't stop at the computer to run a regression or check electronic mail before attempting to grab some more sleep. That doesn't rule out continued differences in the division of labor. Back to Mr Wolfers.
Trying to publish in those journals, while desirable to any up-and-coming economist, is also risky, due to their higher rejection rates than other journals. The authors of the new paper speculate that male economists who become fathers are taking the extra year on the tenure track not to nurture their offspring, but to write more articles and to have time to submit them to top journals. They then had time, if rejected by those journals, to submit elsewhere.
"These results imply that gender-neutral tenure-clock-stopping policies do not adequately reflect the true gender-specific productivity losses associated with having children," the paper says. "Men are more likely to be productive while their tenure clock is stopped and women are much less able to do so, yet they are treated equally under these policies. As a result, the policies actually increase the family gap in economics at research-intensive universities. Since tenure at a highly ranked school is a measure of professional success, this finding is important even if women are not more likely to leave the profession altogether."
Male economists typically approach parenthood with few concerns about possible professional consequences. Women, however, are often counseled to delay motherhood until they have been evaluated for tenure.That phenomenon is widely enough recognized to have its own meme, higher education's baby penalty.
Women without children are 33 percent more likely than women with children to secure tenure-track faculty positions. In other words, at a pivotal point in establishing their careers, mothers in academia pay a "baby penalty." Why should parenting continue to weigh so much more heavily on female academics than on their male counterparts?There are many more possibilities. The Sixties feminism that pushed for subsidized day care and universal preschool was one that made it possible for professional women to neglect their children the same way professional men could. I hesitate to dip further into the culture wars, although the possibility that the ambitious women came off as angry harridans is out there. Or, more generously, that a high-powered career might be at odds with married life; this being equally true for the men and for the women.
Certainly, cultural attitudes play a role, including persisting assumptions that so-called career mothers shortchange their babies, their professional competence or both. For example, Princeton University students were asked recently to consider several fictitious consultants including two new parents who continued to work.
But where there are, as American Interest notes, Unintended Consequences, there is room for more ideas.
The study points to an uncomfortable tension between two important goals of the liberal feminist political program: paid leave and equal pay. So long as women shoulder, on average, a disproportionate share of child-rearing responsibilities within families (a cultural predisposition that no government policy is likely to be able to break entirely), it’s possible that parental leave policies will give men more room to advance their careers. Indeed, a 2013 Pew study found a significant (positive) correlation between the length [of] parental leave policies and the size of the gender pay gap.In addition to being better fathers, economists are sensitive to trade-offs and to the surprising incentives of policies, no matter how well-intentioned. And economists are likely to understand that these new workplace policies are problems of being underemployed relative to our ancestors.
This is a difficult problem to crack. Giving only mothers time off, and not fathers—as some universities are apparently trying after the failure of the gender neutral policy—seems likely to eventually give rise to progressive objections that it is endorsing traditional gender roles, or discriminating against gay couples (to say nothing of transgender people). But even setting aside those dilemmas, a world where mothers get time off but fathers don’t is also likely to increase the pay disparity in the long run as well. While foregoing care for their children, fathers would enjoy several months of career development that their spouses would not.
None of this means that we shouldn’t keep pursuing a world where men and women can command the same salaries, or where more parents have the flexibility to time off work to raise their young children. But it does mean that we should be cognizant of the limits, in the short run, of government policy in achieving both goals simultaneously.