We’ve known for a while that women are turned away from academic careers in STEM fields (Science, Engineering, Technology and Math) at least in part because they fear that they’ll end up not having a family or being able to have fewer kids than they want.

A new report from Rice and SMU expands the research to men — and finds that men are also turned away from STEM academic careers out of fear that they’ll have too few kids, though the proportion is somewhat smaller.

(“Women [postdocs] are much less likely than men to report considering a tenure-track academic job at a research university [69.1% of women vs. 84.0% of men, p<0.0001, n = 472]. But both men and women are equally likely to report considering a career outside science entirely [for graduate students, 25.2% of men and 26.4% of women, p = 0.7379, n = 639; for postdoctoral fellows, 16.4% of men and 20.3 of women, p = 0.2790, n = 463]. [Per the study’s regression analyses, “having had fewer children than desired due to the science career is the only factor that predicts seeking a career outside science.”])

And among those (male and female) who are in these careers, the men who report having fewer kids than they wanted also report a HIGHER degree of overall dissatisfaction with their lives than do the women (male scientists average 1.5 kids, female scientists 1.2).

The report (by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund and Anne Lincoln) concludes that “universities would do well to re-evaluate how family friendly their policies are… and [for example] might leverage additional resources to help foster scientists’ work-family balance, such as providing on-site day care.”

And, some of us who’ve been there might add, making sure that care is available for all who want it (not just a few spots), that it’s not exorbitantly expensive, and that it can be part time for those with infants who don’t want to sign up for full time care but do want some. Too often when child care is available, it is not available on terms that families actually feel comfortable signing on for.

The take-away: if you want more scientists and engineers–male and female, you need to make the life style that goes with the work conducive to full-spectrum happiness. Presumably the same logic applies to all time-intensive fields where you want to attract workers.

Gosh, childcare. What an innovative idea. Good for families, good for employers, good for parents, good for kids, good for the national workforce. Are we nearing the point when there be enough women in policy-making roles to create the national system that we all know will benefit everyone? Maybe Kathleen Sebelius can just put a national system in place as a national health initiative (see below).


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