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Is Science Saturated with Sexism?
February 20, 2011 1:10 PM   Subscribe

In “Understanding Current Causes of Women’s Underrepresentation in Science,” Cornell professors Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams provide a thorough analysis and discussion of 20 years of data.

Their conclusion: When it comes to job interviews, hiring, funding, and publishing, women are treated as well as men and sometimes better. As Williams told Nature, “There are constant and unsupportable allegations that women suffer discrimination in these arenas, and we show conclusively that women do not.” Put another way, the gender-bias empress has no clothes.
posted by Tanizaki (103 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Or, put another way: we can't get more women in science (or any other field) without providing paid family leave and affordable daycare. Just because discrimination is hidden in horrible family policies doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
posted by Maias at 1:15 PM on February 20, 2011 [67 favorites]


What Maias said.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 1:16 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"What is more, Ceci and Williams demonstrate that the real problem most women scientists confront is the challenge of combining motherhood with a high-powered science career."

So, gender bias exists, but not solely within science careers. Yes, a woman's career suffers when she's the one to take leave for children, when she follows her husband's moves for his career, when she gets primary custody (and the extra work load that entails) following divorce, and so on. We can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, but must it only be the woman?
posted by Houstonian at 1:19 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


But the NSF authors and other critics proved no match for the women’s groups, who ignored the evidence and aggressively promoted their own agenda through government lobbying and a mystifying number of conferences, retreats, and summits.

Speaking of bias...
posted by Forktine at 1:24 PM on February 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


Related previous discussion.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:25 PM on February 20, 2011


So the NRO posts an article from a former AEI thinker and I'm expected to to trust that it's a fair, objective, and exhaustive analysis of the research in question?

Really?

At the very least this FPP needs a link to reaction from one of the groups excoriated by the article's author.
posted by kavasa at 1:29 PM on February 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


See also: http://science-professor.blogspot.com/2011/02/orders-of-magnitude.html
posted by PsychoTherapist at 1:31 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh and: What Maias said.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 1:32 PM on February 20, 2011


A Canadian colleague of mine (working in a lab here in the US) is funded by a fellowship from her home country which allows her six months of maternity leave (can be extended longer) once she gives birth in a couple of months. I believe her husband (also a postdoc) is eligible for time off, but don't quote me on it.

Compare this to standard NIH or, in my bubble, University of California maternal leave policy, which gives six weeks, after which medical documentation justifying a longer period is required. Meaning that your desire to be a parent is not sufficient for you to extend the leave. Also, there is no male parenting leave even described in the above policies.

In the narrow reading, this study is likely reflective of the current conditions in the biomedical field. In the biomedical sciences (which is my field), there has long been a closer balance in gender composition among professors, students, and postdocs, as well as their promotion statistics than other scientific fields.

What's interesting and predictable is how NRO reads beyond the narrow meaning of the study, using it to buttress their inherent political biases against womens' rights organizations in and likely outside of science.
posted by DrSawtooth at 1:34 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The study in question.

And, honestly, bad form for not linking to it directly while linking to a somewhat partisan source that describes it instead. Those yellow pixels that the links are made out of are not a limited resource, people.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:36 PM on February 20, 2011 [15 favorites]


At a first (very quick) glance, I thought the linked article would be this: Why do women leave science and engineering?

American women leave science and engineering at a higher frequency than men. This column suggests that the gender gap is explained by women’s relative dissatisfaction with pay and promotion opportunities. This gap is correlated with a high share of men in the industry. Remedies should therefore focus on such fields with a high share of male workers.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:37 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should probably stop drinking while reading MetaFilter, because I was picturing Cornell professor Wendy O. Williams, and picturing science being done atop a huge pile of flaming schoolbuses.

P.S. It was awesome.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:37 PM on February 20, 2011 [16 favorites]


And, honestly, bad form for not linking to it directly while linking to a somewhat partisan source that describes it instead.
Somewhat partisan? Christina Hoff Sommers has built an entire career on distorting research to "prove" that gender bias doesn't exist. She couldn't be any more partisan. What she does here is, in fact, her entire shtick.
posted by craichead at 1:41 PM on February 20, 2011 [16 favorites]


How reliable is nationalreview in revewing scientific data? Well, let's look at some of their articles on global warming:

1) Hooray for Global Warming
2) Global-Warming Swindle
3) Global Warming’s Corrupt Science
4) It’s Freezing: Must Be Global Warming
5) The Dog Ate Global Warming

So we can conclude that gender bias in science is as fake as global warming!
posted by delmoi at 1:45 PM on February 20, 2011 [20 favorites]


Or, put another way: we can't get more women in science (or any other field) without providing paid family leave and affordable daycare. Just because discrimination is hidden in horrible family policies doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Are you suggesting that when a couple decides to have a child, it is obviously the woman partner's employer's duty to have committed in advance to paying for that decision?

That creates an incentive for actual discrimination against women, both those who intend to have children and those who don't

I agree with creating family leave and daycare policies, given that they are backed up by the public as a whole. Blaming universities for not having them is not reasonable, to put it mildly.
posted by Anything at 1:48 PM on February 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


How reliable is nationalreview in revewing scientific data?

I probably disagree with most of what the National Review publishes, but to criticize this article because it's published in that magazine, or because it's by Christina Hoff Sommers, is a blatant ad hominem argument.

Also, seconding what Anything said. I wish there more subsidies for day care. But the fact that our country's family law/policy could be better, doesn't mean that the whole field of science discriminates against women.
posted by John Cohen at 1:54 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


How reliable is nationalreview in revewing scientific data?

National Review is shit, of course, but the actual study is now linked in the thread so no National Review Filter is needed.
posted by Justinian at 1:54 PM on February 20, 2011


I agree with creating family leave and daycare policies, given that they are backed up by the public as a whole. Blaming universities for not having them is not reasonable, to put it mildly.
It doesn't sound to me like the study really points to family leave and daycare policies, for what it's worth. It sounds like they're criticizing the way the tenure system works, which means that your peak years of productivity have to be between about the ages of 22 and 40, or you can't really have a successful academic career. I'm not entirely sure how to fix that, but it is true that the current structure of academia pretty much demands that one go to grad school, get a job, and make tenure during women's childbearing years.
posted by craichead at 1:58 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I probably disagree with most of what the National Review publishes, but to criticize this article because it's published in that magazine, or because it's by Christina Hoff Sommers, is a blatant ad hominem argument.
People need to get over the obsession with "ad hominem" attacks. They are proven liars so they're probably lying about this. There is nothing wrong with pointing that out. There is only a finite amount of time in peoples lives, and there's no reason to waste it arguing with disingenuous people.
posted by delmoi at 1:59 PM on February 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


One thing that isn't answered by either the FPP (even if it were convincing), or by the posters above who attribute the lack of women in the sciences to poor maternity leave policies, is that science in particular is lacking in women. Law, arguably a worse profession in terms of work-life balance, has made more progress than science in terms of getting women into the profession, if not to the highest levels. I don't really know why there are so few women in the sciences, but the answer isn't only poor maternity leave policies, since those are not specific to the sciences. I really don't know the answer, I just know the answer is not maternity leave.

That said, improving women's opportunities to participate in the workforce with more progressive parental leave policies is a great idea. In response to Dr. Sawtooth's comment about Canada- we have statutory parental leave, a couple months of which has to be taken by the mother (I think this part is sometimes referred to as 'pregnancy leave'). The rest, which is about 6 months, can be taken by either parent. It's quite common for fathers to taken leave under this provision, though it's well under 50%. Norway takes it one step further and reserves 10 weeks of parental leave for the father only, presumably to give mothers an opportunity to work while the father cares for the baby.
posted by the thing about it at 1:59 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I went to a women's college and while during my time there we were encouraged to pursue what we thought our passions were in spite of earning potential, I know now that I would never encourage a young woman to go into a field that didn't maximize her earning potential. I have two female friends with PhDs in chemistry and physics, and they aren't making very much money teaching. My female friends who have a bachelor's in computer science got entry level jobs right out of college that paid so much more than what my science PhD friends made after their postdocs at universities. One ended up working at a community college, the other is still doing a fellowship and making a stipend that is around $30K from a major university. I hope they love what they do, but I know my friend with the fellowship is stressed and unhappy, and money is tight. Maybe there will be some way to make money out of it that I'm not aware of, because I'm not in her field. I'm sure there will be opportunities for her.
posted by anniecat at 2:05 PM on February 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, for the women scientists I know, neither are married and probably won't be having children anytime soon, unless they spontaneously decide to go it alone.
posted by anniecat at 2:07 PM on February 20, 2011


People need to get over the obsession with "ad hominem" attacks. They are proven liars so they're probably lying about this.

Those who noted the ad hominem attacks were wise not to get over fallacious argument. There maybe be methodological or other problems with the study, but the fact that someone at the National Review decided to write about it has no bearing on the study's merits.

Are Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams proven liars? They are the authors of the study in question.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:08 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have learned not to read anything about how women should stop whining by Christina Hoff Sommers.
posted by Jairus at 2:09 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams proven liars? They are the authors of the study in question.
Nope, they're not proven liars. Christina Hoff Sommers is misrepresenting what their study says.

For what it's worth, this article is based on an interview with one of the study's authors.
“It has to do with timing. It’s really biased against women,” said Williams, who is also the director of the Cornell Institute for Women in Science. “Women have to have all their kids and do all their best work, and it all has to happen in the same six to eight years.”
....
In the study, Ceci and Williams propose alternatives that would allow women to gain tenure while simultaneously raising their children. The professors’ suggestions include part-time positions that are still on the tenure track, which would extend the period of time for women to make tenure and allow them to take leaves of absence to raise their kids.

“The society and the way that our universities are designed are based on an out-of-date model where men would work and women would stay home,” Williams said. “When you hired an assistant professor in the old days, it was a man who had a wife who stayed home. And this model is disadvantageous for women.”
posted by craichead at 2:12 PM on February 20, 2011 [22 favorites]


Regarding Christina Hoff Sommers vs. the article in question. Here's a bit of stuff from the article's conclusion which somehow (I can't *imagine* why) did not get mentioned in Christina Hoff Sommers' review:

"One strategy to broaden girls’ interests and aspirations involves providing them with realistic information about career opportunities and exposing them to role models in math-based fields ... to ensure they do not opt out of inorganic fields because of misinformation or stereotypes."

"... ability differences are a secondary explanation for the dearth of women in math intensive fields because, even given these differences, we would still expect more women in these fields ..."

"... having children early in one’s career exerts more downward pressure on pretenure women than men ... The tenure system has strong disincentives for women to have children ... The GAO report lists strategies, such as stopping tenure clocks for family formation and tenure-track positions seguing from part-time to full-time. Gender Equity Committees have suggested adjusting the length of time to work on grants to accommodate child-rearing, no-cost grant extensions ... and childcare to attend professional
meetings ... Research into these strategies is needed to identify which are promising."

"Federal agencies and universities could play an important role by funding studies on the differing lifecourses of women’s and men’s careers to determine whether the traditional timing of hiring, tenure, and promotion may deny society and science the contributions of talented women."

"However, implementing such flexible options will require motivation and commitment of resources ... departments and universities should be encouraged and funded to experiment
with alternate lifecourse options. A partnership between the academy and federal funding agencies could be instrumental in researching such alternatives."


Contrary to what Ms. Sommers says, the article is not exactly in favor of declaring no problem and stopping funding. Quite the opposite, in fact.
posted by kyrademon at 2:14 PM on February 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Here's a good Slate piece by Alison Gopnik about why Ceci & Williams's findings don't support the NRO/John Tierney interpretation. As Maias said above, to say that women with the same resources as men don't face discrimination is not at all to say that actual women don't face discrimination as compared to actual men, in reality, with the real distribution of resources.
posted by oliverburkeman at 2:14 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are you suggesting that when a couple decides to have a child, it is obviously the woman partner's employer's duty to have committed in advance to paying for that decision?

That creates an incentive for actual discrimination against women, both those who intend to have children and those who don't

I agree with creating family leave and daycare policies, given that they are backed up by the public as a whole. Blaming universities for not having them is not reasonable, to put it mildly.


It's like you're speaking from some bizarro world where men and women are equally burdened by the decision to have children.

If a company has bad family leave policies, and two employees (one male, one female) both want children one day, the man can have children without seriously jeopardizing his career... the woman can not. I don't get why you talk about "incentive for actual discrimination" as if the situation I described creates no discrimination against women.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:20 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Those who noted the ad hominem attacks were wise not to get over fallacious argument. There maybe be methodological or other problems with the study, but the fact that someone at the National Review decided to write about it has no bearing on the study's merits.
Well, we don't really know what the study says. NR could easily be misrepresenting it (In fact it seems like that's what's happening.) The problem with lying about science is that it's really tricky to figure out exactly how it's being lied about. It's better to filter out known-wrong sources first then to figure out exactly how they're being dishonest. If you're worried about fallacious arguments, you should be ignoring NR already.

Look, as I said there is only a finite amount of time. Logical analysis requires time. So why waste that time on arguments with an already high likelihood of being wrong? The answer is you shouldn't. It's much better to simply point out how often the source lies and get on with your day.

If they wanted a serious debate, they shouldn't have lied so much in the past.
posted by delmoi at 2:22 PM on February 20, 2011


Oh and the other thing is that people who whine about 'ad hominem' attacks are almost never making 'logical' arguments in the first place. If an argument can't be expressed in formal logic, then it's not logical. If it is then it should be easy to spot the problems with it (most likely bad premises), but if not from a 'logical' point of view the argument is wrong to begin with, so the idea of 'ad hominem' doesn't really apply in the same way.
posted by delmoi at 2:26 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Law, arguably a worse profession in terms of work-life balance, has made more progress than science in terms of getting women into the profession, if not to the highest levels.

That's putting it mildly. It's true that women have reached parity in law school, but at the partnership level the disparity is very large and only very slowly improving. Only about 19% of the partners at law firms nationwide are women, and each year only about 28% of new partners are women. So firms aren't even remedying the situation very quickly. In fact, at the current rate of improvement, parity isn't expected until about 2086.
posted by jedicus at 2:28 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the term is "super-saturated." You have to wait for the sexism to form a precipitate. I don't think it has a crystalline form.
posted by clvrmnky at 2:30 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The reason that lack of family leave is effectively, even if not explicitly, discriminatory in science in particular is that building a career in science requires such an investment in early-career work and publishing, and that people's early careers fall exactly during the years - twenties to early thirties - that most women would chose to have kids.

The reason that this should matter to scientific institutions like universities is that they are wasting resources training talented women who then leave science. These institutions would achieve a benefit far greater than the amount of money they would need to devote to family leave if they could keep these talented women at work in their fields in the long term.

I myself was a top student in physics and I left in part because it was hard for me to imagine having a life outside of work while I was struggling to compete for tenure, and the life I would live at work during this struggle seemed too monastic, isolated from other people, and competitive. That wasn't the only reason but it was a factor.
posted by mai at 2:31 PM on February 20, 2011


Well, we don't really know what the study says. NR could easily be misrepresenting it (In fact it seems like that's what's happening.)

The full article is linked in this thread, and I found it by following a link in the NRO piece. And yes, it's vastly oversimplified and misrepresented in the NRO article. I'm reading it right now.
posted by rtha at 2:31 PM on February 20, 2011


Are you suggesting that when a couple decides to have a child, it is obviously the woman partner's employer's duty to have committed in advance to paying for that decision?

I won't speak for the person who posted the original suggestion, but I don't think it's the woman's partner's job to be committed in advance to paying for that. I think it's BOTH parents' employers' jobs to ensure that their jobs are compatible with doing their share of parenting.

The male scientists who are getting ahead by working 18 hours a day in a lab despite having families are discriminating against women. However, the women they're discriminating against are not necessarily their colleagues or potential colleagues, but their wives or partners. I think it's flawed to suggest that better maternity policies are the answer to workplace gender inequality. What we need instead are better parental leave policies and an expectation (impossible to create by legislation or policy, I know) that male partners will take on their share of the parenting responsibility. What does it matter what a woman's employer does if her male partner leaves the responsibility for children and household primarily to her?

Oh, and it need not be the employer who commits to paying, it could also be the government. In Canada most of the payment for parental leave (about 1 year, splittable between parents) comes through the federal unemployment insurance program, which also pays you if you're temporarily to sick to work, and of course if you lose your job.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:38 PM on February 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


This appears to be a stunt post responding to the previous one about the New Yorker. Flagged.
posted by serazin at 2:39 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


See, this is why I have a negative impression of the Ivy Leagues.

Everyone knows that women make about 3 quarters to every four quarters a man makes.

Rather than acknowledge that there is some discrimination behind that, they support their own study to the point of public humiliation. Is there some contagious mental illness involved here? I keep seeing it pop up in the same places over and over.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:40 PM on February 20, 2011


It's like you're speaking from some bizarro world where men and women are equally burdened by the decision to have children.

If a company has bad family leave policies, and two employees (one male, one female) both want children one day, the man can have children without seriously jeopardizing his career... the woman can not. I don't get why you talk about "incentive for actual discrimination" as if the situation I described creates no discrimination against women.


I hope you'll understand that this is a very uncharitable reading of what I said. I referred to the resulting incentive for the employer to discriminate against women. A lack of paid family leave does indeed also result in a discriminatory situation against women, but it is then not the employer doing the discriminating, but human biology. And, as I suggested, I (FWIW) support mitigating that effect with public money.
posted by Anything at 2:41 PM on February 20, 2011


mal : All those universities extracting inexpensive labor from graduate students and postdocs who'll never find professorships, not wasting resources training talented people who then leave science. And academia isn't keeping the most qualified people anyways.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:42 PM on February 20, 2011


Everyone knows that...

Whenever I see this phrase I get a funny feeling inside.
posted by Justinian at 2:43 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think it's flawed to suggest that better maternity policies are the answer to workplace gender inequality. What we need instead are better parental leave policies and an expectation (impossible to create by legislation or policy, I know) that male partners will take on their share of the parenting responsibility.
So here's the problem. As you note, it's impossible to legislate social change around parenting. And until that change occurs, generous paternity leave policies will just compound inequality in academia. Academics are required to teach, but they're not rewarded for it. They're rewarded for research and publishing, which they generally do independently. So if you give mothers and fathers equal time off from teaching, and if mothers use that time to care for babies and fathers use it to research and write, then you've got an even more unequal situation than if fathers didn't have any time off at all. It's one way in which academia is kind of different from most jobs, in which mandated paternity leave would do a lot to promote equality.
posted by craichead at 2:49 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rather than acknowledge that there is some discrimination behind that, they support their own study to the point of public humiliation.

They are not studying pay parity, and their study does not say that there is no discrimination. It does say that discrimination and bias happen in places other than the publication and hiring process. I believe you have let confirmation bias (Ivy League sux amirite?) cloud your reading of the study. You have read it, right?
posted by rtha at 2:51 PM on February 20, 2011


Few seem to take life sciences seriously, including the writers of this piece. Women are well-represented in biological research, even if there are gains still to be made as principal investigators. Science is more than particle accelerators and computer scientist positions at Google, etc.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:59 PM on February 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I believe that Norway has shown very clearly that legislating that men take at least 10 weeks of the parental leave has created the expectation that men will take leave and use it.
posted by jeather at 3:01 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


delmoi - not to defend NR, but your reasoning for ad hom is basically the definition of statistical discrimination. Kind of ironic given the thing you're pissed about is discrimination.

Females may be sorting out of fields like science. They require significant time investments over the fertility cycle for one. And given the higher returns to education and skill anyway many females who are smart can make considerably more in the labor force in business, technology, finance, medicine and so on with fewer time inputs off the market. The scientist on the other hand - post college, maybe 7-9 years of education including postdoctoral work, then tenure track? The opportunity cost of such a career has never been higher for women has it since their alternatives are so good? Bad pay and no family and no life vs high pay, family, life.

I suspect there is discrimination, but I think there is far more self selection/sorting than critics recognize.
posted by scunning at 3:05 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone knows that...

Whenever I see this phrase I get a funny feeling inside.


Just for you, dude. AND you are correct. I should have said "Everyone SHOULD know that..."

They are not studying pay parity...You have read it, right?
Explanations for women's underrepresentation in math-intensive fields of science often focus on sex discrimination in grant and manuscript reviewing, interviewing, and hiring. Claims that women scientists suffer discrimination in these arenas rest on a set of studies undergirding policies and programs aimed at remediation. More recent and robust empiricism, however, fails to support assertions of discrimination in these domains.

To even discuss the possibility of discrimination in hiring without account for the gap in pay between genders renders this study KRAP.

You know what happens when you offer girl scientists $37,500 and boy scientists get offered $50,000? You don't get to hire very many girl scientists. Not factoring that into their study borders on "hiding truths".
posted by hal_c_on at 3:10 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I had a penguin...

Your argument is that, it is impossible for a wife or partner to ever voluntarily have a relationship with a male scientist in which they both agree to him working constantly to get tenure? Why not? If they both have a sharing rule of the benefits of success, then a mix of altruism and willing sacrifice would make it completely rational for a female partner/spouse to voluntarily consent to that. And, the fact that American divorce laws are basically no fault (that is my understanding anyway), that we observe such phenomena would suggest that it is *not* an abuse of bargaing power by the husband, as that she can exit willfully without his permission is a credible threat.

Having said that, I think it is nevertheless true still that husbands will ask far more and be given far more than is fair. How that equilibrium is reached is complicated. My wife worked to put me through grad school and while we tried to share childcare, it always skewed against her favor. We both thought it would be better with tenure track, naively thinking grad school would be harder. But in fact, it was ten time worse as TT faculty especially if right out of the gate, one didn't just explode in success. Then the guillotine seemed to hover over us constantly. It took therapy and a willingness for me to be okay with the prospect of not getting tenure. She now works as much as she wants and i keep the kids.

So i guess disagree that the fact a husband works all the time means he is taking advantage of her . But i did find the it hard to successfully be equitable personally. I think at least for me, the pressure to get tenure - which we both want badly - makes me feel like I have to work all the time. But what I have realized too is that I am a workaholic.
posted by scunning at 3:21 PM on February 20, 2011


Sure, there is discrimination against women in the workplace. At the same time, though, one of the reasons why my girlfriend and I don't want to have kids is that we have both noticed that it tends to bring out traditional gender roles in our previously super-progressive friends (and we don't want to be that way).

I have many friends who are very successful women, with earning power greater than 90% of men and often their spouse, who have either stopped working or switched to less demanding careers after having children. I can't think of any similar cases in which the man has done this. Obviously, it's their choice, so they should do what they want, but society isn't holding them back. They can do literally whatever they want and they want to raise children.

To pretend this doesn't exist or pretend that it's solely a function of workplace inequality precludes a serious discussion of the issue.
posted by snofoam at 3:38 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


hal_c_on: "You know what happens when you offer girl scientists $37,500 and boy scientists get offered $50,000?"

Could you provide a citation for that?
posted by Blasdelb at 3:43 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


hal_c_on: The original study does not completely ignore the issue of pay differentials, but rather says:


the GAO report mentions studies of pay differentials, demonstrating that nearly all current salary differences can be accounted for by factors other than discrimination, such as women being disproportionately employed at teaching-intensive institutions paying less and providing less time for research. Historically, however, this was not true; women, particularly senior women, lagged behind men in pay and promotion (52, 53) (SI Text, S8). Ginther and Kahn (54) analyzed promotion and pay data, noting that historic asymmetries favoring males largely disappeared by the early 2000s, with current asymmetries due to nongender factors.


They go on to say that the asymmetries due to nongender factors tend to affect women more than men, because women are more likely to be in part time or teaching-intensive positions. The original article is only 6 pages long and is pretty reasonable reading; they're pretty clear about limitations to conclusions one can draw from their analysis.
posted by matematichica at 3:54 PM on February 20, 2011


Oh hai. I am a "female" in the sciences. What I see from the point of view of one about to leave grad school and enter the tenure-track is mostly the legacy of sexism. I've interviewed for jobs that were great except I would be the only woman in all of the sciences at their school. And they recognize that this is a problem (especially in light of 70% of their biology majors being women) and they obviously are actively trying to get someone to be that only woman in their department who will be the mentor and role model that they are lacking.

I've also been on interviews were there were women in the department, but they were all very junior and couldn't take time out to go to lunch with me, so the older men in the department took me out to lunch and were as nice as chivalrous as they could be. And then they talked about SEC football for most of lunch and didn't care that I didn't seem engaged.

It is only in my final years of grad school that my professional societies are now starting to elect women as presidents and award them lifetime achievement awards. And yes it's finally happening, and yes I totally salute those women who came before me and were the only woman in the department sometimes for years and years and have been mentors and role models. But we are so far from parity it's just sort of laughable.

I have also experienced the guys who talk to boobs not eyes, the guys who think I can't do math or program, the guys who assume whatever I do it must be a soft science. And I've definitely dealt with women who question my career goals and assure me that, no matter what I know in my head and heart, one day I will just desire the babies more than my career. And I fucking hate those assholes and their shit (Christina Hoff Summers included) and call them out whenever I can.

But really I would say the hardest thing is those times when I've faced that prospect of being the only woman in a room, a course, or a department and realized that representing my entire gender is a lot of pressure.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:57 PM on February 20, 2011 [20 favorites]


For those of you who haven't followed the link to FSP's discussion of this study, here is something important to know.

The authors mention "math-intensive" fields repeatedly, but they seem to rely *a lot* on funding and publication data from the life sciences. This happens to be the set of disciplines that we already know are doing better in terms of gender equity. So how you can make broader conclusions based on that, I don't know. To me, it's like they peeked in on classes at Bryn Mawr and concluded that women are well-represented in science majors.
posted by secretseasons at 4:00 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have many friends who are very successful women, with earning power greater than 90% of men and often their spouse, who have either stopped working or switched to less demanding careers after having children. I can't think of any similar cases in which the man has done this.

In my anecdotal experience, this does happen but usually when the man already makes less, or is likely to make less, than the woman. Low pay in academia makes it less likely that women in that field are going to be the higher-paid spouse.
posted by emjaybee at 4:01 PM on February 20, 2011


Blasdelb --

A couple minutes of quick googling found me this study from a few years back ... Here's the page on the male/female salary disparity in academia. Relevant quote:

"... full-time male faculty averaged about $61,700 in base salary ... compared with $48,400 for full-time female faculty."
posted by kyrademon at 4:03 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


hal_c_on: "You know what happens when you offer girl scientists $37,500 and boy scientists get offered $50,000?"

Could you provide a citation for that?
posted by Blasdelb at 3:43 PM on February 20 [1 favorite +] [!]


For what, the hypothetical situation, or the 75cents on the dollar? If its the latter, check the comment you quoted. My citation is the link in there.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:04 PM on February 20, 2011


emjaybee, for sure there are men who are the primary child-rearers, but I think it is really rare, even when women are very much capable of being the primary breadwinner.
posted by snofoam at 4:05 PM on February 20, 2011


hal_c_on, no one should disagree that women, on the whole, earn less than men, but the figure you cite doesn't show that this number is accurate for this specific area.
posted by snofoam at 4:08 PM on February 20, 2011


My previous post cites a study that does, however, snofoam.
posted by kyrademon at 4:09 PM on February 20, 2011


hal_c_on: Except you're misinterpreting the data. No-one offers "boy scientists" $50,000 and "girl scientists" $37,500. The problem is much more subtle and difficult to address than that, involving (as pointed out in this thread) working hours over decades, parental leave, and so forth.

Talking like it's something as simple to identify and address as a blanket "we'll offer a lower starting salary because it's a chick" doesn't do justice to the issue.
posted by Justinian at 4:10 PM on February 20, 2011


They go on to say that the asymmetries due to nongender factors tend to affect women more than men, because women are more likely to be in part time or teaching-intensive positions.

No see, there's the rub. In the paper:
Similarly, in the United Kingdom for 2006–2007, female academics were significantly more likely than males to work part-time, 41.8% vs. 26.8% (25).
Such sex differences reflect preferences and choices, whether freely made or constrained by gendered expectations, and result in more women in teaching-intensive, part-time posts where re- search resources are scarce.


First, a 15% difference between the likelihood of a random male vs random female to work part time is considered "significantly more". Fine...I'll accept that if it is mathematically significant, although I'd still say "only 15% difference".

But what I really don't understand is why they assume that it is because of "preferences and choices, whether freely made or constrained by gendered expectations".

They are already assuming that the women work part time because they gotta go home and cook, or because they need to make babies part time. Why do they not consider that perhaps the women are more likely to be offered part time positions than men?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:14 PM on February 20, 2011


To even discuss the possibility of discrimination in hiring without account for the gap in pay between genders renders this study KRAP.

You know what happens when you offer girl scientists $37,500 and boy scientists get offered $50,000? You don't get to hire very many girl scientists. Not factoring that into their study borders on "hiding truths".


Wasn't there an article somewhere about how women tend to end up negotiating lower pay for themselves? Also, what about international students (non-US citizens who enter the US as PhD students in the sciences or postdocs) in the sciences? I recall from reading Sepia Mutiny (when this Indian PhD engineering student or postdoc was murdered near Duke because he was being paid a criminally low stipend and lived in a bad part of town as a result) that their wages are generally in the toilet.
posted by anniecat at 4:14 PM on February 20, 2011


Justinian --

Harvard University professor Hannah Riley Bowles and Carnegie Mellon Professor of Economics Linda Babcock conducted a study, published in 2007, that found that women are penalized when they try to negotiate starting salaries. Male evaluators tended to rule against women who negotiated but were less likely to penalize men; female evaluators tended to penalize both men and women who negotiated, and preferred applicants who did not ask for more. The study also showed that women who applied for jobs were not as likely to be hired by male managers if they tried to ask for more money, while men who asked for a higher salary were not negatively affected.

So ... yeah, in some cases they do offer "girl scientists" less, actually.
posted by kyrademon at 4:15 PM on February 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Kyrademon, both the numbers cited in this thread overstate the difference. In the second link they say that after controlling for other factors like Degree attained, tenure, etc the difference was 9%. and that was over ten years ago. The difference should be zero, but at some point, it shouldn't be a huge factor, especially when other occupations have an even greater disparity.
posted by snofoam at 4:18 PM on February 20, 2011


snofoam -- fair enough, and I know the first study I cited was a little older than I'd have liked; as I said, I found it after briefly googling. However, a 9% difference is still significant (that's thousands of dollars every year), and I'd be frankly surprised if it were gone after only a single decade.
posted by kyrademon at 4:21 PM on February 20, 2011


Yes, a 9% difference is still something that can't be ignored. It won't have disappeared in a decade but it could be closer to 6% now since last I read the gap was narrowing by about 0.3% a year.

But a 9% (or 6%) difference is a hugely different thing that must be addressed differently than something as trivial to identify as "We'll pay you $37,500 because you're a girl and we'll pay you $50,000 because you're a boy", that's all I'm saying. Reducing the issue to the latter actually makes it harder to fix, not easier.
posted by Justinian at 4:26 PM on February 20, 2011


hal_c_on, no one should disagree that women, on the whole, earn less than men, but the figure you cite doesn't show that this number is accurate for this specific area.

You're right, snofoam. This one discussed in The Economist does though.

No-one offers "boy scientists" $50,000 and "girl scientists" $37,500. The problem is much more subtle and difficult to address than that, involving (as pointed out in this thread) working hours over decades, parental leave, and so forth.

Talking like it's something as simple to identify and address as a blanket "we'll offer a lower starting salary because it's a chick" doesn't do justice to the issue.


Well first off, they do make the offers I am referring to.

And I agree that there are more subtle issues that make it rather difficult to see mathematically. But the way I see it, it begins with the starting salary and snowballs into worse territory from there. A 20% gap between starting colleagues of varying genders will turn into a greater one over the years. When the pay is the same, the expectations from both genders will be the same from the start.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:26 PM on February 20, 2011


Well first off, they do make the offers I am referring to.

Ok, where? I don't see a reference to $50,000 and $37,500 in the papers we're discussing. And the last link you provided talks about an average salary differential between male and female scientists of like $2850.
posted by Justinian at 4:29 PM on February 20, 2011


Arg, linked to the same study twice in two posts instead of to a new one thanks to bad cut-and-paste-fu. Here is the study that shows that women are often penalized if they attempt to negotiate higher starting salaries.
posted by kyrademon at 4:34 PM on February 20, 2011


hal_c_on, in your last link from the economist, from what I can tell it attributes 23% of a 4,000 pounds/year difference to discrimination. At current exchange rates, that's just under $1,500 a year. It doesn't say what the average salaries are, but even at $30K, that's 5%.

Even a penny is too much, but it's not enormous. It is much smaller than the commonly cited overall discrepancy, and that should encourage women to enter a field that's relatively less-sexist (pay-wise). It's also surely orders of magnitude smaller than the difference between going into academia and pursuing applied science in the private sector or whatever other choices are open to these women.
posted by snofoam at 4:36 PM on February 20, 2011


I'm afraid you've all missed the most glaringly obvious explanation :

It's not true that too many women abandon academia,
the gender imbalance arises because too few men quit.

Academia vastly over oversupplies qualified people for research and teaching jobs, making the competition brutal, lowering salaries, limiting job choice, etc.

Among my (ex)academic friends women were the ones who changed their research field away from their primary interest to improve their employability, took jobs at small teaching collages earlier, and left academia to make more money or choose the city where they lived.

Are you claiming those life decisions are mistakes? I don't think anyone here over 30 would claim those sound like mistakes, well except maybe the teaching collage job. And I know many male academics who're envious after they figure it out.

I doubt you'll find much outright salary discrimination among scientists with the same title, hal_c_on. Instead, I've always heard that women's job prospects are harmed because changing the gender on a resume changes the hiring committee's predictions/expectations unfavorable for women. Btw, that result holds when the committee was all women! Yes, that's hurtful but that's not why women don't stick around.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:36 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"I doubt you'll find much outright salary discrimination among scientists with the same title ..."

jeffburdges, there have now been at least two studies cited in this thread that say that his is, in fact, *exactly* the case.

Also, the one hal_c_on linked to also noted that women in academia are also less likely to get promoted and maintain the same title and pay grade as their male peers, a fact which has been given too little notice in the discussion of exactly how big the salary gap really is.

There is some reasonable debate in this thread on the precise size of the pay gap, but denying it exists and is on average significant -- even between scientists of with the same degree, job title, years of work, and everything else except gender -- is basically ignoring what the research is saying.
posted by kyrademon at 4:47 PM on February 20, 2011


(and I apologize for my typos -- it's 1:48 AM here right now and I'm sleep deprived.)
posted by kyrademon at 4:48 PM on February 20, 2011


Kyrademon, it doesn't seem that big to me. It sucks, but it doesn't seem like that would be the primary factor causing women to leave the sciences. I think we should fix the pay gap AND figure out why the women are leaving.
posted by snofoam at 4:53 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who said you can't create better conditions via legislation? The Scandinavian countries legislated *family* leave, typically allowed to be split between partners for 9 months after birth at something like 80% of pay, and lo and behold, they have much better representation of women at higher levels throughout their industries. There was a recent article in the Times about this, looking at how at first men didn't take the leave, I think it was in Sweden, but now they do and it's pretty much accepted.

The problem is not that legislation mandating real, paid family leave and providing for affordable day care wouldn't help— it's that there's no political movement to support it and get it through and lots of opposition from people who seem to be holding their hands over their eyes and believing that if they just think hard enough, all the working women will go home or magic elves will care for their children while they work.
posted by Maias at 4:57 PM on February 20, 2011


I recall from reading Sepia Mutiny (when this Indian PhD engineering student or postdoc was murdered near Duke because he was being paid a criminally low stipend and lived in a bad part of town as a result) that their wages are generally in the toilet.

Well ...

Abhijit Mahato was a second year graduate student. In engineering, if you are being supported off a federal research grant, graduate student stipends are set at the federal level, and are, right now, around $24,000 a year (whether international or not). While this is a fairly low wage for a person with an engineering degree, Durham's cost of living is fairly low, and it's not awful, especially if you don't mind living with roommates, or if you don't mind living in a less savory part of town. Some graduate students have to live on the same stipend in much more expensive places like Boston.

I lived in a worse neighborhood down a street from where Abhijit was living, and we were paying $750 a month for a 2 bedroom house. I was never a victim of crime, but when the drug dealers moved in next door, I moved out, deciding that any savings was not worth it. Fortunately, this meant that I was no longer living there when those particular people decided to go around shooting everybody. The people who murdered Abhijit also ended up murdering UNC Student Body President Eve Carson, who was in a much nicer neighborhood.

I also happened to bump into a Chinese graduate student (supported by the Chinese government) who told me that he was being given $1000 a month by the Chinese government. He intended to save much of it to send home to his parents.

So I don't complain too much.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:58 PM on February 20, 2011


snofoam, I don't particularly disagree with you. I was responding to someone saying the pay gap basically didn't exist at all.
posted by kyrademon at 5:06 PM on February 20, 2011


> Law, arguably a worse profession in terms of work-life balance, has made more progress than science in terms of getting women into the profession, if not to the highest levels. I don't really know why there are so few women in the sciences, but the answer isn't only poor maternity leave policies, since those are not specific to the sciences. I really don't know the answer, I just know the answer is not maternity leave.

The authors don't seem to think that's the whole answer either. The higher rate of attrition among women in the fields they're looking at may be partly due to parental leave policies and different choices about work-life balance, but that doesn't explain why so few female undergraduates choose to major in those fields in the first place.
Quoting from Ceci and Williams' article:
The primary factors in women’s underrepresentation are preferences and choices — both freely made and constrained: “Women choose at a young age not to pursue math-intensive careers, with few adolescent girls expressing desires to be engineers or physicists, preferring instead to be medical doctors, veterinarians, biologists, psychologists, and lawyers. Females make this choice despite earning higher math and science grades than males throughout schooling”

....

Today, the dearth of women in math-based fields is related to three factors, one of which (fertility/lifestyle choices) hinders women in all fields, not just mathematical ones, whereas the others (career preferences and ability differences) impact women in math-based fields. Regarding the role of math-related career preferences, adolescent girls often prefer careers focusing on people as opposed to things, and this preference accounts for their burgeoning numbers in such fields as medicine and biology, and their smaller presence in math-intensive fields such as computer science, physics, engineering, chemistry, and mathematics, even when math ability is equated.
I'm not quite sure 'girls often prefer careers focusing on people' works as an explanation either since there's a higher proportion of women in marine biology than computer science or engineering, and fish aren't people.

Just looking at hiring and acceptance of papers may not capture what it's like to be a woman in an overwhelmingly male field. Take a look at hydropsyche's comment. I've seen the same sort of complaint from female programmers over and over again on various web forums.

It may be a completely sane and rational choice for female undergraduates to pick careers where they don't have to be "the only woman in a room" when there are plenty of other interesting and fairly lucrative fields they could go into.
posted by nangar at 5:24 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your argument is that, it is impossible for a wife or partner to ever voluntarily have a relationship with a male scientist in which they both agree to him working constantly to get tenure? Why not? If they both have a sharing rule of the benefits of success, then a mix of altruism and willing sacrifice would make it completely rational for a female partner/spouse to voluntarily consent to that. And, the fact that American divorce laws are basically no fault (that is my understanding anyway), that we observe such phenomena would suggest that it is *not* an abuse of bargaing power by the husband, as that she can exit willfully without his permission is a credible threat.

Of course people can voluntarily make such arrangements. However, those arrangements are by definition discriminatory: They treat one party differently from another. When many people make such arrangements and further very few people make the opposite arrangement, the result is that you will see inequality in the workplace even if nothing that we would call "discrimination" exists there. This is not a normative statement but a simple statement of fact.

I don't believe I made any statements about abuse of bargaining power, and I don't think I need or want to figure out whether I think that's the case. However to suggest that women and men are equally able to leave a marriage without "threat" is demonstrably false when women and single mothers in particular are far more likely to experience poverty and other negative consequences after divorce than men or single fathers.

So here's the problem. As you note, it's impossible to legislate social change around parenting. And until that change occurs, generous paternity leave policies will just compound inequality in academia. Academics are required to teach, but they're not rewarded for it. They're rewarded for research and publishing, which they generally do independently. So if you give mothers and fathers equal time off from teaching, and if mothers use that time to care for babies and fathers use it to research and write, then you've got an even more unequal situation than if fathers didn't have any time off at all. It's one way in which academia is kind of different from most jobs, in which mandated paternity leave would do a lot to promote equality.


First, I should say I am an academic and my university and department give parental leave which both men and women commonly take in my department. You're right that you can't legislate parenting practices. The best you can do is create an environment in which it at least possible and at best expected/normal that everyone does their share of the parenting. I don't have kids, but observing the many junior faculty I know who have taken parental leave, both men and women try to get a little research done, but in truth don't do a whole lot because they're never at the university. They're home with their kids. If you're a man on parental leave, your wife is working. You don't really have a lot of choice but to take care of your kid, since someone has to do it and your wife is at work.

That men actually take the leave quite frequently is about the structure of the policies: Men aren't punished for taking the leave because it's actually set up in a way that is financially beneficial to the department. If everyone had a baby every year and took a whole bunch of leave, we'd be rolling in money and have the finest sushi at every faculty meeting. Just like practices/habits/"policies" at home affect how inequality is structured in the workplace, workplace policies affect how inequality is structured in the home. Which is why I'm suggesting that good parental leave policies, not just maternity leave policies, are a good idea.

And yes, I know I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors and who's doing what part of the work. All I know is that men take the leave pretty commonly. That men and women are not seen at the university much at all while on leave, including not even meeting with their grad students, and that they get little work done during this time.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:33 PM on February 20, 2011


kyrademon : There are numerous academic jobs tied to rigid pay scales, including virtually all academic jobs in Europe, as well as NSF postdocs* and graduate support. In particular, virtually all academic jobs that I've held fall into that category, hence my assertion.

I'd imagine the salary disparity you're discussing occurs mostly among tenured faculty in the U.S. And therefore the young people we're discussing here have never even witnessed it.

In truth, all academics are already far too willing to work for peanuts. And the only salary imbalance driving anyone out of academia is the one between academia and industry. As I said, the gender imbalance that most strikingly effects young academics is simply that women notice this & other** unpleasantness in academic life more quickly than men.

* There's likely some salary flexibility when postdocs are supported by a lab's NSF grant, as opposed to a grant targeted at young people, but the lab's budget for that postdoc line predates hiring.

** Imagine for example if the NSF created 'rising star' grants that allowed a handful of truly exceptional young PhDs to work anyplace they wanted for ten years. You'd eliminate the gender imbalance among those 'rising stars' almost immediately.

posted by jeffburdges at 5:40 PM on February 20, 2011


Law, arguably a worse profession in terms of work-life balance, has made more progress than science in terms of getting women into the profession, if not to the highest levels.
In law, there's no expectation that people who are let in at the low levels will ever make it to the high levels. Most people wash out long before then, but it's OK, because they're still useful for doing grunt work while they are around.

At my firm, women leave in disproportionate numbers at every level of seniority. When the list of departures is circulated every Friday, it's sometimes entirely women.

It's caused by a lot of things, and I doubt all of them are within the firm's control.
posted by planet at 5:43 PM on February 20, 2011


Let's be clear about what an attack ad hominen is, everyone. That is when you say "Bill is a dick and therefore his argument is invalid."

I did not say that.

What I said was "I do not trust this source to do a fair evaluation of this research. I would like to see what other people made of the same research."

Excusing someone of make an attack ad hom by attacking the NRO and/or Christina Sommers doesn't make any sense: they didn't do the research here. Any ad homs would have been directed against the researchers, and as far as I can see, that didn't happen.
posted by kavasa at 5:51 PM on February 20, 2011


So I work in the corporate sector doing Science. I work with a lot of women at all levels.

If I'm purifying a batch of antibodies with technique A, and a co-worker is using technique B because we're curious about which technique is better - I may be curious but I'm not emotionally involved despite what popular culture would imply.

So, being objective as I can be, the article may be correct, but Christ! I got to the point where I couldn't see the data through editorializing about three sentences in.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:13 PM on February 20, 2011


I work in a molecular biology lab at a public university and of the eight of us who are there, six of them (including the PI, which may have something to do with it) are women. I've been working there for only about two months now, but I'm here to tell you that it's the best working environment I've ever experienced.

In my biology classes, about 75% of the students are female, and the women I've met seem to be among the sharpest and most dedicated of the students. I'm the only guy in my study circle. Is this normal? I'm not sure, but it seems to be the situation where I am.

The research faculty is obviously of a slightly older generation, but even there I'd say it's a pretty even split; I have two friends who are doing their doctorates right now at other universities in molecular bio and paleogeology, and both of them are women.

I know, intellectually, that the sciences are still dominated by men. And I know as well that Biology has been seeing a greater influx of women than most of the other fields, as it's the softest of the "hard" sciences and that's stereotypically where women scientists end up. But while I know that all of this is going on, I can't help but feel like things are moving in the right direction, more toward gender parity. The next generation of scientists will surely have many more women in it than the last.
posted by Scientist at 6:23 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


jeffburges --

"I'd imagine the salary disparity you're discussing occurs mostly among tenured faculty in the U.S."

I'm ... confused. I thought that was who we were talking about. Hence all the studies that have been posted here about pay differentials in tenure and tenure-track faculty positions in the U.S., and differences in salary negotiations and offers for tenure-track positions in the U.S., and whether the policies for tenure-track positions discriminate against women. In fact, the original study under discussion specifically refers to the tenure system as it is practiced in the U.S., and suggests ways to modify it to make it more fair to women, and requests further study to "determine whether the traditional timing of hiring, tenure, and promotion may deny society and science the contributions of talented women."

So, I'm not sure exactly who you believed I thought I was discussing.
posted by kyrademon at 7:04 PM on February 20, 2011


Damnit. That's about all I've got after getting sick of the 758th encounter with the way men and women are socialized. So sick of this shit.
posted by cashman at 9:28 PM on February 20, 2011


There are not that many people who obtain a tenure track job only to later quit academia. Instead, all these academics that'll eventually show themselves the door will do so during their postdoc or graduate school. And that's long before they've ever learned how much tenure track faculty earn!

Ergo, we must examine the life of postdocs and graduate students if we want to understand the gender imbalance among tenure track faculty. Academics themselves are only likely to worry about postdoc, as that's when the person has largely become their peer, so let's focus there.

As a postdoc, you arrive all by yourself in a brand new city, hopefully one that's not too boring. You'll spend all your time with faculty and students. Among these, the only people around your own age are graduate students, who've already formed their own little cliques. You'll spend some time slowly assembling a social life around your busy work schedule. And then you'll move away to another postdoc 3 years later, maybe even sooner. And again for a third round.

It's pretty sweet experiencing life in several different interesting cities, but all the relocating totally wrecks your personal life. And now you've just figured out that you'll never get an academic job back where you've real family and friends. Did I mention postdocs may only earn half what they'd earn doing similar work in industry?

As I said, academia has systemic problems with exploiting it's excess of young talent, women simply resolve these issues more effectively.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:45 PM on February 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


In my experience I've found that being a parent is fulfilling. I can only speculate as to whether it is more or less fulfilling than a long term career. I find it interesting that women opt more frequently for careers in law rather than science .
What troubles me is that this calculus, rather than elevating parenting as a rewarding job somehow needs to lower the worth of parenting. And all the ladies in the house that respect a stay at home dad say "Yeah", and stop fucking lying.

These threads though seem mostly populated by non-parents that chose their career or chose (for whatever reason) to not be parents.

I've seen victims of both tracks. Those (female and the rare male) that chose parenting seem more content than those that chose a career. It's not a choice I'd wish on anyone in these interesting times though.
posted by vapidave at 12:14 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Instead, all these academics that'll eventually show themselves the door will do so during their postdoc or graduate school. And that's long before they've ever learned how much tenure track faculty earn!

Ergo, we must examine the life of postdocs and graduate students if we want to understand the gender imbalance among tenure track faculty.


I sort of agree and sort of disagree. When I was in grad school, we all very much knew what entry level professors earned. As each finishing cohort hit the job market, the quality and terms of their offers were the subjects of intense scrutiny and conversation. Anyone who wanted to make big money knew from very early on that they would need to leave academia and enter the private sector; there were no surprises on this front.

Also, there is fairly heavy attrition in the early years of the tenure-track process, with women leaving in higher numbers than men. (I assume the same is true in fields in the sciences that rely on post-docs as an initial sorting and screening tools, but at that earlier stage.) Most people seem to erroneously think that grad school is the tough part and if they can just finish it will be gravy. So when they hit a tenure track job and find out that in fact life is now ten times harder, with more pressures and a chance of failing more publicly, as well as all the issues discussed in the study in the FPP, people choose other paths.

But I agree with you that a lot of the critical sorting happens in grad school and before, and that is echoed in the original study, which points all the way back to middle and high schools. I don't know how you would totally break it out between internal and external pressures, but the result is a highly sorted environment. Add in the hostility that many women encounter in many fields, and the gender imbalances become less surprising again.
posted by Forktine at 5:36 AM on February 21, 2011


If I only had a penguin... "Of course people can voluntarily make such arrangements. However, those arrangements are by definition discriminatory: They treat one party differently from another. When many people make such arrangements and further very few people make the opposite arrangement, the result is that you will see inequality in the workplace even if nothing that we would call "discrimination" exists there. This is not a normative statement but a simple statement of fact."

They treat one party through specialization and the division of labor, which is advantageous for both parties in the situation I'm describing. Pure equality as you are describing where each does the same would achieve a lower utility for the female if in fact the reason they negotiate this division is so that the family can have more income than otherwise is possible.

That said, it is entire other matter to say because inequality in the household may make both people better off through collective sharing of resources and specialization, that therefore all such inequalities in the household we observe are that. But that it is easy to exit/divorce, we have reason to a priori suspect these thing have efficiency elements that need factoring.
posted by scunning at 6:21 AM on February 21, 2011


This article skirts around the issues of many male-dominated sciences being hostile to women. I have dealt with an incredible amount of sexism during my time in the hard physical sciences, and it's simply ridiculous to pretend like sexism doesn't exist there. I had a professor at my undergrad women's college tell another one that he "didn't teach the girls the hard stuff, because they couldn't understand it." The same professor ended class early every day because he couldn't fill up the time. I've heard the phrase "housewife astronomer" from two supposed mentors. The phrase is used to describe women who get an undergrad degree in astronomy and then go off to become housewives. In grad school, I was never really accepted in my research group, even though I was the senior member, because my advisor and I had more of a professional relationship than the frat buddy relationship he had with all his male students. Another female student left his group, and eventually the program, because of this atmosphere. And note, this was all very recent, I went to college mid-90s, and grad school in the early 00's.

So maybe once you get to the point where you are competing for jobs, there isn't as much obvious sexism going on, but when a woman has to decide if she wants to stay in such a hostile field, or leave and focus more on her family, of course it's an issue.

/rant off
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:23 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I suspect there is discrimination, but I think there is far more self selection/sorting than critics recognize.

The self-selection in my case, for example, started with things like the professor who refused to acknowledge my answers when he asked questions in class, even though I was consistently right. Or the professor who thought it would be hilarious to have a 'funny' quote in a powerpoint talking about muscle chemistry to the effect that the only way to understand women was to dissect one.

It continues with the fact that I have to prove that I'm competent day in and day out even as men with much less expertise just wander in and make up bullshit and get respect. Or the fact that people will ask me who told me that something will work and are politely skeptical when they tell them I told me it would work.

Oh, you meant self-selection like I just didn't want to continue in science for no reason? Sorry, that isn't what happened in my case, or in the case of any of the women I know.
posted by winna at 6:25 AM on February 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


But on the other hand, I don't agree with the idea of making the science track more family friendly to women to solve the problem.

The problem in academia is that there are 100 people competing for the same position. And anyone who isn't 100% dedicated to their field will be at a disadvantage. And why shouldn't we reward these people? Why shouldn't the people who work nonstop be more likely to succeed? If some people are so dedicated to their field of research that they are willing to forego having a family and many friends, then more power to them. That's how it was in my PhD field, and that's part of the reason I switched to a different field of research. I wasn't willing to make my career my "lifestyle" and so I left for an industry job, and personally feel like I'm much better off for it.

Yes, science academia is cut-throat, and that means it's not easy to succeed and have a family. But men in science have families, and they still thrive. The problem is that in traditional relationships, women still bear the brunt of the work, it's assumed that they will be the ones to leave their job for long periods of time, that they are the ones who are going to need special considerations for childcare and extended tenure. Men can still thrive because they have a wife to manage the household and kids, but it's rare that the alternative happens.

My question is why are all these smart women entering into unequal relationships where they are the ones who have to sacrifice their careers for their family? It's a lot easier to blame an institution for sexist policies than it is to blame your husband for assuming you'll be the one to stay home with the kid. That's the root of the problem. Extra daycare, "family-friendly" policies are just a band-aid, they don't address the cause of this problem. To fix it we need to have a generation of confident young women who aren't willing to put up with that type of inequality.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:56 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


They treat one party through specialization and the division of labor, which is advantageous for both parties in the situation I'm describing. Pure equality as you are describing where each does the same would achieve a lower utility for the female if in fact the reason they negotiate this division is so that the family can have more income than otherwise is possible.

Scunning, again, I was not making a normative statement about this choice. I never said the woman would achieve higher utility (presumably measured by family income, here?) by dividing work in the home equally. I never said it was right or wrong. Irrational or rational. Financially saavy or not. A good long-term strategy or not. All I said was that when lots of people make this choice and few people choose either an equal division of labour in the home or a division of labour where the man does more labour at home allowing the woman to advance more in the paid workforce, the result will be gender inequality in the workplace.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:57 AM on February 21, 2011


Actually, I should add, I also suggested that it might be a good idea to have workplace and government policies that make it less financially rational/necessary/attractive to sacrifice one person's career for the other. In other words, this type of division of labour which results in inequality in the workplace is rational only under a particular set of structures/institutions. If you change the structures/instutions you change the economically rational response to them. Therefore, if you want to create equality in the workplace one way to do it (and a good way I would suggest) is the change the structures of reward and compensation such that allowing women to participate equally fully in the workforce and allowing men to participate equally fully in parenting (let's not forget what the men are sacrificing here) is an economically rational decision for households to make.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:05 AM on February 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


If we drew up a map of human resources strategies, then "Here Thar Be Dragons" would be written off towards the excessive measures of dedication side of the map, Tooty McTootsalot. And the evidence from Scandinavia suggests that women don't wish to change the child rearing situation too much either.

Instead, I'd suggest simply concentrating research academia's cut-throt tendencies into one early selection process. Any selected get fast tracked for NSF grants, good professorships, and good industry jobs. Any passed over are cast down to teaching collages and mundane industry jobs. We could accomplish this using some form of early career grant like I'd proposed up thread.

Postdoc approach : Winners gain 10ish years of full to half salary from the NSF which they may bring with them to any U.S. institution, even corporate research, but that institution must move them through some form of tenure process. We'd prevent this from becoming another postdoc-like ghetto because each awardee represents a several million dollar commitment on the NSF's part and brings significant advantage to their institution.

Grad student approach : We could devalue or ban PhDs that are not directly supported by the NSF following a competitive national selection process.

Is early selection optimal? No, but it's no worse than the political games already played. Is it fair? No, but it'll solve academia's life issues efficiently, moving all the pain onto the NSF's budget. In particular, awardees are now free to choose an institution near their spouse's jobs.. and hold power to bully their own institution into hiring their spouse.

There are of course concerns about making academia less agile. For example, we'd might now face another 10 years of young hotshot string theorist even though their field has passed out of fashion. Or maybe labs might need to seduce PhDs who already had their own NSF money. Is either worse for academia than forcing everyone to move every couple years? No.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:31 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


You'll never sell the U.S. on enforced parental leave ala Scandinavia, penguin. Too radical, too many conservatives, we'd circumvent it, separation of church and state, etc.

I'd expect that academia will slowly address it's broader exploitation issues by pushing more graduate students towards industry earlier. UCLA won an award from the AMS for making math graduate students spend one summer working with engineering faculty. We should expect such approaches will encourage women to leave even more quickly than men in the short run, but I feel the long term benefits to academia will reduce the gender imbalance.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:42 AM on February 21, 2011


If I only had a penguin ... Scunning, again, I was not making a normative statement about this choice. I never said the woman would achieve higher utility (presumably measured by family income, here?) by dividing work in the home equally. I never said it was right or wrong. Irrational or rational. Financially saavy or not. A good long-term strategy or not. All I said was that when lots of people make this choice and few people choose either an equal division of labour in the home or a division of labour where the man does more labour at home allowing the woman to advance more in the paid workforce, the result will be gender inequality in the workplace.

We would expect with a large share of households represented by "female specialization in home production" lower labor force participation rates because, by definition, if they are working at home, most likely they are not in full-time employment also in the workforce. Plus, labor force as as it is measured in the US precludes students and stay-at-home mothers and spouses, so again by definition, gender inequality in one implies gender inequality in the other.

But, while this would predict inequality in labor force participation, it would not require that females be under-represented in the sciences. If there are differences in the kinds of jobs and industries, in other words, then inequality in the home production does not require that every kind of industry have inequality by gender. For instance, traditionally there was a gender inequality in the teaching of primary and secondary schooling but with more women than men, right? (I'm speculating as I recall a paper noting the number one major in college for females 30-40 years ago was education, but now is business). So it doesn't seem required by any means. It just means the aggregates will exhibit gender imbalances, not every category within the labor force.

Regarding income vs. utility: most of the time, I suspect these sacrifices and arrangements are - if they are thought through - are primarily due to the gains in consumption through higher incomes, which raise utility. But obviously, this is just a simplification.

My initial comment, though, was motivated by what I thought was something else you'd said. I may have misunderstood. I thought you said that inequality in the household was discrimination. But when I go back to find what in the world I was replying to, I can't find any trace of that sentiment. So I apologize for completely misunderstanding what you wrote. This is what happens when I read and write on metafilter using my tiny little iPhone screen...
posted by scunning at 1:28 PM on February 21, 2011


Read the actual article (and link to it) instead of some science news garbage. Even from reading the abstract it is obvious that the conclusions of the National Review article (and your post) are gross misrepresentations of the actual study.
posted by The Wig at 4:51 PM on February 21, 2011


I mean read and link to the scientific article, of course.
posted by The Wig at 4:52 PM on February 21, 2011


A small case study: at my university, some of the sociologists recently did an extensive comparative study of male versus female tenure track professor salaries (not yet published, sorry for no link), controlling for factors like years of employment and faculty (science, arts and humanities, or professional studies). They found that women make less. Not a whole lot less (I seem to recall it was between $1000 and $2000 per year), but it's the sort of thing that adds up over the years. We have a salary grid, so salaries are "fixed" in some sense, but you can negotiate which grid step you start on. What's been happening is that:

(i) there have been different policies within the three different faculties, so, for example, new hires have tended to start at higher grid steps in the sciences (more male dominated) than in the arts&humanities (more women) - nevertheless, on a faculty-by-faculty basis, the salary discrepancy between men and women was largest within the science faculty;

(ii) women were more likely to be hired to a tenure-track position after spending time in a temporary ("contractually limited term") position; CLT hires have minimal ability to negotiate starting grid step/salary, but some departments were also telling people hired from CLT positions to tenure track positions that they weren't allowed to open up salary/grid step negotiations - that they had to continue on at the same level that they'd been hired at as a CLT - and other departments allowed negotiating but didn't budge as much because they figured they didn't have to;

(iii) there used to be more blatant discrimination, the remains of which are still evident in salaries of full professors (not that there are a whole lot of women in this group to compare salaries of).

Even in recent years, my university has had more women leave, even post-tenure, than men. (jeffburdges: while it is true that many women leave science fields in academia between undergrad and grad school and between grad school and academic job, and between first academic job and tenure-track job, there is also attrition farther along, eg. at the tenure stage.) Women in the sciences who have left mostly went to other academic jobs, in our particular sample. From what I've heard, some small proportion of those have left or may be soon to leave academia entirely, however. But the fact remains that even my small, teaching focused university (traditionally where more women end up) has a significantly harder time keeping female tenure-track professors than male tenure-track professors.

Part of this is a result of the "two-body problem": a highish proportion of female academics who are partnered have academics for spouses, whereas a relatively low proportion of male academics have relationships where they have to worry about finding two academic jobs kind of near each other. Given societal sexism (basically, that the male academics married to these women are being passively sexist twits about it(*)), women academics change jobs to follow a spouse much more often than the reverse. My university is in a small, rural town, with few nearby job opportunities, so this is one thing that contributes to our attrition problem. The female professors here primarily have nonacademic spouses. Or, you know, are single. I recall reading a few years ago that a higher proportion of women academics in the sciences were single than their male colleagues.

((*) Some of my friends would say that the problem is in women's behavior, that women should not pursue/continue relationships with men when that would involve sacrificing their careers in advancement of the man's career. Given current demographics, however, the male academics would be more likely to find nonacademic replacement spouses while the female academics would be less likely to find any sort of replacement spouse, so this merely exchanges one structural sexism (in the work sphere) for another (in the personal sphere). My opinion: men in dual-academic couples who actually care about this issue should follow their female spouse's career. Anecdotal evidence indicates that this garners the men major brownie points with everyone, and while it may not net the man his dream job, other people at the female partner's university assume that the man is intelligent and capable (not always the case in the reverse situation), and so in many cases he will end up getting an okay academic job eventually (even if he has to take some crap positions that might usually be career dead-ends in the mean time; whereas a woman who follows her male partner, taking per-course appointments or something perhaps, will more often find her academic career dying a slow death.) (Holy nested parenthetical footnote - thanks for following along, intrepid readers!))

But, frankly, women at my university tend not to get quite as much research support as men (typified, for example, by the almost complete lack of support for our one female Canada Research Chair, just hired last year, versus the support given to our four or so male CRCs), so women in science here who are more interested in research tend to look for greener pastures elsewhere.

Lastly, we haven't done the study yet, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that, in the sciences at my university, female faculty have a harder time getting through the tenure and promotion to associate professor process than men.

Better family leave policies would help about half of the female science professors at my university. A spousal hiring policy would help almost all of the female science professors. We're trying to institute better training for search committees and for review/tenure/promotion committees, and hopefully a mentoring program for new female hires. So yeah, systemic issues causing systemic discrimination are the larger issue nowadays, but good old fashioned interpersonal sexism is not dead, and is also still having an effect on women's career options and choices in academia (though, thankfully, not nearly the major influence it used to have). Get a bunch of women in math, chemistry, or even more so physics, engineering, or computer science together and talking about their experiences, and that becomes very clear. Most women I've talked to have gotten the "no man is going to want to marry you..." line and/or the "nerdy/mathy girls aren't very feminine" line; experienced the colleague who talks to our breasts; sat in a meeting where their ideas got ignored or shot down only to be welcomed when re-expressed by a man a couple minutes later; been called "Miss ___" by students while all of their male colleagues always get "Dr. ___"; had their expertise called into question or doubted (by colleagues, by students, by random other people,...); had colleagues or grad profs assume that because they thought that teaching well was somewhat important, that they wouldn't also be interested in or really good at research; been assigned a higher proportion of introductory or lower level courses than male colleagues, which leads also to less access to good students for supervising and hiring as research assistants; and so on. Individually none of that is a big deal, but it adds up.
posted by eviemath at 8:53 PM on February 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Instead, I'd suggest simply concentrating research academia's cut-throt tendencies into one early selection process. Any selected get fast tracked for NSF grants, good professorships, and good industry jobs. Any passed over are cast down to teaching collages and mundane industry jobs. We could accomplish this using some form of early career grant like I'd proposed up thread.

Except that this suggests that teaching college jobs are for lesser scientists who couldn't cut it at R1 schools, rather than perfectly valid choices for those of us with both excellent teaching and research skills who prefer to spend our lives teaching and actually doing science rather than writing grants and supporting grad students.

My career choice is not a consolation prize because I suck, it is the goal that I have worked my ass off for from the beginning.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:06 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Imagine for example if the NSF created 'rising star' grants that allowed a handful of truly exceptional young PhDs to work anyplace they wanted for ten years. You'd eliminate the gender imbalance among those 'rising stars' almost immediately.

jeffburdges: Canada did something very, very similar to this last year. Somehow all of their rising star type people ended up being male....
posted by eviemath at 11:55 AM on February 22, 2011


Aargh, meant to italicize the quote from jeffburdges.
posted by eviemath at 12:04 PM on February 22, 2011


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