• Wed, Aug 10 2011

Female Scientists Sacrifice Having Children For Their Careers

According to a new study published in the journal PLos ONE, nearly half of women scientists said their career has caused them to have fewer children than they would have preferred. Researchers Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University and Anne Lincoln of Southern Methodist University questioned 3,455 male and female scientists. They asked how many hours each person worked, if they were married, if they had kids and if they had fewer children than they wanted because of the demands of their career.

About half of the women said they had fewer children than they wanted because of the pressure their careers put on them. This was especially evident among female post-docs: 55.4% of female postdoctoral students said they had fewer children than they wanted. Almost 40% of women grad students agreed, as did 45% of female science faculty.

The issue of women feeling that they have to sacrifice having children to succeed in their career is a common and ubiquitous one, but is it more profound in science? It  is still a male-dominated industry, with women earning only 18% of all Computer Science degrees and making up less than 25% of the workers in engineering- and computer-related fields in 2009. The low numbers are often attributed to the lack of desire on the part of women to go into these fields but maybe it is because the ones who do go into it, know they have a lot to prove.

Microsoft Developer Jennifer Marsman told Bitch Magazine that when you’re a woman in technology, you sometimes feel like you’re carrying the entire weight of your gender on your shoulders:

Since women are such a minority in the computing field, a female presenter does stand out. If she does a poor job, it might reflect poorly on all women, which is a lot of pressure.”

The drive to be at the top of their fields has appeared to have led to sacrifices such as giving up the time to devote to being a mother to one child or multiple children. It is especially interesting to look at the fact that male scientists seem to have nearly the same number of children as everyone else in the U.S. For women scientists, the number of children is lower: an average of 1.88 children compared to the U.S. fertility rate of 2.05 children per woman.

But of course that would make sense, since men don’t have have to take time off from work if they have a baby. Women do have to take time off, which makes carrying the weight of your gender on your shoulders even tougher.

Photo: Haslo

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