Some problems with that productivity paper

Last month a study was released* by Yana Gellen** of the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at The University of Chicago, “Motherhood and the Gender Productivity Gap.”

Some outlets, like the American Enterprise Institute and Wall Street Journal, have jumped onto the study and claimed this is the reason that working mothers don’t earn as much as men – they aren’t working as much or as productively.  But does the study really show that?  And what does all this mean for working mothers in the academy?

Does this study prove that mothers are less productive?

In short, no.  Digging into the methods – there are some major problems with how this study was done.
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One kid? Fine. 2? 3?! Well, maybe not.

Care work of all kinds (self care, elder care, child care) is often not valued by academic institutions –at least in terms of letting students, staff, and faculty use time, money, energy for those tasks while having the resources to continue excelling at their jobs). And that’s unfortunate, because care work (+ other kinds of unpaid labor – emotional, organizational, and physical) is still highly gendered and stigmatized.   Recognizing the common threads between these kinds of care work that women do can help workers better organize together and institutions create policies that recognize all the forms of care demanded of women, not just childcare of babies + infants and not just for tenure track faculty.

[And having no kids (or elders or pets) to care for can still be held against women in the workplace, as managers can expect them to be workaholics (“put their career first”) or potentially even cover for folks who have care responsibilities. The 1-body problem is real, in multiple ways.]

But today I want to specifically talk about the penalties women in the academy occur for having multiple children.

It’s like the patriarchy up and decided “fine, ladies, you can have a kid and still be considered a working professional – but just this once” — as if choosing to have a kid again is abusing the supposed privileges that come with it.

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A Forced Career Gap? Pregnancy Between Positions

I’m writing about both happy news and … other news. The happy news is that the partner and I are expecting Kid #2. It’s something we’re hopeful and excited about, especially after an uncomfortable miscarriage. Maybe if I lived in a different place (I’m in the US) or a different time (please, I hope the next generation of academics and workers will have different working conditions), the news would end there. Yay for (planned) parenthood for the folks who want to be parents. End of story.

But it’s not.

This potential Kid#2 has a probable due date of right after I’m PhinisheD. Yes, right after I officially graduate, AKA in theory when I would be starting a new position. This has made postdoc and job searching – and overall career planning – very, very difficult.

Yes, it was my* decision to have Kid#1 and to try for Kid#2 *. Yes, technically it would be illegal for potential employers to refuse to hire me on the basis of me being a pregnant person ***. Yes, technically it would be illegal for potential employers to even ask me about a pregnancy or marriage or kids ****.

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Putting the Care in Career

“I need a wife.” In a meeting last week, my female colleague says this to me. “I need a wife.” She is a divorced mom of two sharing parenting responsibilities amicably but not equitably with her ex. She sent her son off on a camping trip with school and he returned to his dad’s house with a suitcase full of dirty laundry. Even though her son stayed with Dad for a few days, the laundry ended up coming home to Mom still caked with grime, still stuffed in a suitcase. My colleague is understandably perturbed by this and she has to make a choice. Does she spend her time and emotional energy doing the laundry, feeling pissed off? Or does she spend her time and emotional energy explaining to her former partner what 50% of the parenting responsibilities actually means? Either way the burden of care is hers. When she says she needs a wife, I can relate. What would it be like to have someone at home with a lifetime of socialization on how to perform the labor of care? For the academic women all around me, this is the dream.

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Figuring Out My Next Steps

I’m nearing a point in my post doc where I think I’m ready to finally start applying to faculty positions. I’ve gotten a few publications out, I’ve built a lab pretty much from the ground up, and I’ve mentored students in the lab ranging from high schoolers up through grad students. I’ve gotten leadership positions within organizations in my field, and I’ve managed to secure a chunk of time using the equipment at a national lab. Right now, it’s also the time of year when positions are advertised for the few months before the November and I’d have to wait another year for the next one. And though I’m ready to start applying, I’m a bit concerned about leaving.

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