For as long as I can remember, I wanted to meet the “right” guy and be a mother. The question was, “when?” You see, I also had goals to go to graduate school and get a job as a professor at a university. Sadly, these goals are oftentimes incompatible for anyone in the workforce (click here for more information about this choice). There are many costs involved with motherhood,1 such as loss of wages, decay of skills and lowered productivity, child care expenditures, not to mention losing precious sleep! In fact, for each year of motherhood delay, women can expect a 9% increase in earnings and 3% increase in wages!1 Because of the costs of parenthood and benefits of employment, many women delay motherhood for the sake of establishing their careers. Between 1990 and 2002, birth rates in the U.S. have declined for women under age 30 and increased for women age 30 and over,2 and women aged 40-44 are the only group to have seen increased birth rates thru 2009.3 With the current economic recession, this pattern is likely to continue because many women have decided to delay motherhood due to the bad economy.4
Today, I find myself an assistant professor and a single mom of two amazing toddler boys (unfortunately, Mr. “Right” was not so “right” after all). I was in my mid-thirties when I gave birth to my first child and have not yet secured the holy grail of academia: job security (aka tenure). The choice to have children before tenure was hastened by the potential negative consequences of further delayed motherhood (e.g., increased risk of infertility, birth defects). My story is not unique; many academic women are often forced to choose between becoming mothers and negotiating a very rigid tenure timeline.5 Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons that many women do not pursue academic careers6 or are worried about their future career success.7
What impact does having a family (or not) have on a scientific career? Recently, Elaine Ecklun and Anne Lincoln8 conducted a large scale survey of 3,455 male and female biology and physics graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty members across 31 universities. Women were generally less satisfied than men with their careers. But, importantly, they had similar levels of satisfaction if their non-work life was satisfying. Women were twice as likely as men to have fewer children because of their careers, and the decision to have fewer children because of one’s career goals was associated with greater life dissatisfaction. Interestingly, the decision to have fewer children due to career demands was associated with even greater life dissatisfaction for men than women!
So, delayed parenthood has a number of costs and benefits, not only for mothers, but also for fathers. There is no ‘right’ time to have kids, and researchers recommend making sure that there are family-friendly policies in all workplaces to encourage a healthy work-life balance. Many industrial/organizational psychologists (i.e., psychologists that study the workplace) will tell you: a happy worker, despite work-family stressors, is a productive worker when they work in a supportive organization.9
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1Miller, A. (2011). The effects of motherhood timing on career path. Journal of Population Economics, 24, 1071-1100.
2Sutton, P. D. & Mathews, T. J. (2004, May 10). Trends in Characteristics of Births by State: United States, 1990, 1995, and 2000–2002. Volume 52, Number 19. Retrieved on August 30, 2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/NCHS/data/nvsr/nvsr52/nvsr52_19.pdf
3Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., & Ventura, S. J. M.A. (2010, December 21). Births: Preliminary Data for 2009. Volume 59, Number 3. Retrieved on August 30th from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_03.pdf
4Guttmacher Institute. (2009). A real-time look at the impact of the recession on women’s family planning and pregnancy decisions. Retrieved on August 31 from http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/RecessionFP.pdf
5Haynie, A. (2008). Motherhood after tenure: Confessions of a late bloomer. In E. Evans, & C. Grant Grant (Eds.), Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life. pp. 55-60. Piscataway, NJ, US: Rutgers University Press.
6Van Anders, S. M. (2000). Why the academic pipeline leaks: Fewer men than women perceive barriers to becoming professors. Sex Roles, 51, 511-521.
7Kemkes-Grottenthaler, A. (2003). Postponing or rejecting parenthood? Results of a survey among female academic professionals. Journal of Biosocial Science, 35, 213-226.
8Ecklund, E. H., & Lincoln, A. E. (2011). Scientists want more children. PLoS One, 6. Retrieved on August 30, 2011 from http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0022590
9Sidle, S. D. (2007). Pain or gain: Is there a bright side to juggling work and family roles? Academy of Management Perspectives, 21, 80-82.
Dr. Jennifer Harman – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman’s research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.
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