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Women face motherhood penalty in STEM careers long before they actually become mothers

Women in Ph.D STEM programs say they were told they had to choose between family and career. janiecbros/E+ via Getty Images

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

Unfounded assumptions about how motherhood affects worker productivity can harm women’s careers in science, technology, engineering and math long before they are – or even intend to become – mothers, we found in a new study.

It is well known that women are underrepresented in the STEM workforce, including in academia. For example, women constituted only 20% of tenured professorships in the physical sciences and 15% in engineering in 2017, despite the fact that their share of doctoral degrees in those fields has increased substantially in recent decades.

We wanted to understand what might be causing women to be more likely than their male peers to forgo science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers in academia. We conducted extensive interviews with 57 childless Ph.D. students and post-doctoral scholars – both men and women – in natural science and engineering programs at elite U.S. research universities.

The interviews covered a wide range of topics, including workplace experiences and relationships, personal background and career and family plans. Using the data obtained from the interviews, we analyzed gender differences in intentions to pursue a career as a professor after earning a doctorate.

We found that, upon entering the Ph.D. program, men and women were equally interested in working as a professor after finishing their degree. But, by the time of our interviews, women were twice as likely as men to say they had decided not to pursue a career as a professor after all.

Our analysis ruled out a variety of factors that might explain this gender pattern, such as the interviewee’s discipline, their

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This story was published at TheConversation/us - kw:women and provided for your interest.


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