Scientists at the nation’s top research universities say the pressure-filled road to tenure— publishing, grant-writing, and long hours in the lab—keeps them from having as many children as they would like.
And according to a new study, “Scientists Want More Children,” women aren’t the only ones lamenting how their science career short-circuited their family plans. Men aren’t happy about it either. One-quarter of male scientists reported that they had fewer children than they wanted, and that had a more negative effect on their life satisfaction than it did for women, said Elaine H. Ecklund, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, who co-authored the study with Anne E. Lincoln, an assistant professor of sociology at Southern Methodist University.
“Men seemed to be harder hit than we thought by this reality” that science careers and family life often don’t mix, Ms. Ecklund said. “Women go into science, and they know all about the hardships already” because most most research on scientists and work-life balance tends to focus on women. Nearly half of the women scientists surveyed by the authors said their careers kept them from having more children.
The study looked at data from more than 30 research universities and 2,500 scientists in the fields of physics, astronomy, and biology. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows were among those surveyed, and from their vantage point, work-life balance in the sciences looks pretty bleak. Nearly 30 percent of women worry that if they choose to pursue science, then they will have to give up on having a family.
In fact, the study shows, once graduate students and postdocs have fewer children than they want, they are more likely to consider a different career. Ms. Ecklund said one solution could be for institutions to make a concerted effort to provide mentoring programs for early-career scientists—both women and men—that focus on how to achieve work-life balance. Some scientists interviewed for the study also talked about how on-site day care is a great help as well.
But Ms. Ecklund and Ms. Lincoln plan to do 150 follow-up interviews with scientists to find out more about what resources and institutional policies would make it easier for them to balance work and family.
“I think we’ve too often thought of this as a personal thing that people should figure out on their own,” Ms. Ecklund said. “But our research shows that if universities do nothing, people will think their only option is to leave, and that really hurts the future of science.”
If you’re a pretenure scientist with children, how do you achieve work-life balance? What does your university or department do to help?