More on women, families, and careers

Tuesday’s Boston Globe has an article about women in science dealing with the career/family balance. Highlights:

As a graduate student at Harvard University and also a mother, [Deborah] Rud hopes to inspire female undergraduates to pursue both a career in science and a family. The trouble is, she’s still figuring out if she herself can have both.

Rud nearly dropped out of her doctorate program after she gave birth, and she still fears that her family would suffer if she devoted herself to an academic research career.

The career choices of young women like Rud will to a great extent determine whether their generation will approach equality with men in university science departments.

In Rud’s field, biology, women are 46 percent of the doctorate recipients from the nation’s top 50 biology departments. But they make up only 30 percent of assistant professors and 15 percent of full professors. A similar ”leaky pipeline” is seen in other sciences, as well. A sizable number of the women who train in the sciences never enter the academic profession — and the desire for more family time is a major reason.

”I don’t know how many tenured female professors there are who have children and are a really big part of their children’s lives,” said Rud, 27. ”I don’t know of any who go to soccer games and sometimes pick up their kids from school. I don’t need to be there for all of it — frankly it’s a little mind-numbing — but I want to be there for some of it.”

Rud is a little unusual in having given birth to her first child in graduate school, but her soul-searching was echoed by more than two dozen other young female scientists in interviews with the Globe. Many of them are preoccupied with the question of whether to stay in academia at all, or whether to settle for less prestigious instructor positions.

These women, most of them studying in the booming field of life sciences, often describe working in laboratories where women are a robust minority, or even a majority, of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. Few of them say they have experienced much discrimination. The primary barrier, they say, is the conflict between lab and family under the grueling demands of today’s academic culture.


Princeton University president Shirley M. Tilghman, a molecular biologist, has spoken about how in her field, women are nearly half of new doctorate recipients, but only a quarter of faculty job applicants at top-tier universities.

”It does not take much imagination to recognize that the drop coincides with prime child-bearing years,” Tilghman said in a speech this year at Columbia University.

The typical scientist is 32 by the time he or she earns a doctorate. In most cases in the life sciences, graduates then have to spend several more years as low-paid postdoctoral fellows, or ”postdocs,” before getting their first academic jobs.

In a 2000 survey of University of California at Berkeley postdocs, most of whom were scientists, 60 percent of married women with children said they were considering leaving academia.

Rud’s adviser, James A. DeCaprio, said few of the graduate students and postdocs he has trained, male or female, have gone on to academic research positions. Those who have made it tend to work about 70 hours a week. The rest end up choosing business or law school, the pharmaceutical industry, or teaching in less prestigious positions.

”If you work 80 hours a week, you will be twice as successful” than if you work 40 hours, he said, explaining that more hours translates directly into more experiments, and more discoveries. ”They move the science along faster than the competition.”

DeCaprio called Rud smart and creative, and said she has ”as good a chance as anybody to be extraordinarily successful.” What happens will depend mostly on how many hours she is able, or willing, to put in at her bench.

Raised in Pasadena, Calif., by a single mother, Rud always knew she wanted children. Her love for science came later. Today, Rud gushes about the elegance of biological systems — how clever viruses are, for example. ”It’s like an art critic discussing a work of art,” said her husband, Ryan Rud, an English teacher at English High School in Boston.

Still, like many of her peers, Rud found herself in graduate school uncertain about what she wanted to do with her life, except that she and her husband wanted to start their family early.

Her pregnancy brought her confusion to the boiling point. She worried about the hours it would take to succeed — hours away from her family.

At the same time, she wasn’t sure if she loved the repetitive work at the lab bench, altering the salt levels in experiments, for example. And she couldn’t imagine taking a job in a pharmaceutical company lab, where she’d have better hours but feel like ”a drone.”

A six-week maternity leave ballooned into a year-long leave of absence, although she worked as a teaching assistant this fall.

Ultimately, Rud decided to return to school. When she joins her new viral oncology lab in January, she hopes to work weekdays from about 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Her thought now is that she’ll probably pursue a career that’s mostly teaching, for which she has an obvious gift. But if she doesn’t put in 70-hour weeks, she has no idea whether she could still get a tenure-track job at a liberal arts college, or whether her only academic option would be a low-paid instructor position. Maybe, she thinks, she’ll go into patent law.

Rud doesn’t blame her struggles on Harvard. Still, a growing chorus of scientists says that the responsibility for this lab-vs.-life conflict lies with institutions. Recently, the presidents of nine leading universities, including Harvard and MIT, pledged to do more to make academic careers ”compatible with family caregiving responsibilities.”

That will mean changing expectations about work hours and offering more support to families. The Ruds could not afford Harvard day care. They get by on their salaries only because Jackson attends the subsidized center for babies of teenage mothers at Ryan’s high school.

A Harvard task force on women in science, convened after Summers’ comments on women, recommended paid maternity leave and child-care scholarships for doctoral students. It is not yet clear whether Harvard will adopt these recommendations.

A survey of people who received Harvard doctorates between 1997 and 1999 found that three years later, slightly more women than men who studied natural sciences remained in academia. It’s a result that cheers Harvard officials, although they can’t explain the difference.

The article raises some interesting questions.

(1) Is the “leaky pipeline” problem as bad as the article suggests? If women make up 46% of new Ph.D.’s in biology (from the nation’s top 50 schools) but only 15% of full professors, surely this is at least in part a generational problem. It would be helpful, for instance, to know the average age for biology professors.

(2) We are told that 60% of the female postdocs at Berkeley who are married and have children are considering leaving academia. What are the comparable figures for postdocs who are single (male and female), or married without children? And what about men? Is this purely a work-family issue, or also an issue of the work environment in science?

(3) I have no doubt that (for whatever reason) women in science are more concerned with issues of balancing work and family than men are, but shouldn’t at least some attention be paid to men in this discussion? A friend of mine who is working toward a science Ph.D., as is her husband, makes it very clear that they are both concerned with how to balance work and family once they have children. Surely, they can’t be unique.

(4) I’m not sure that the work environment in science can ever be made “family-friendly” for those who are interested in high-level scientific achievement. I’m not sure that the idea of science as a stern taskmaster, of the scientist as somewhat aloof from the real world and living in world of his — or her — own, is merely a cultural “stereotype.” Serious scientific discovery, I think, probably does require a tremendous amount of dedication and focus. But should there be more opportunities for people to teach and to do lower-level scientific work, perhaps teamwork, without having to put in 70 hours a week?


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30 responses to “More on women, families, and careers

  1. anniesmom03

    Oh, no! Does the fact that I find myself nodding my head in agreement when I read Cathy’s blog, while I was prone to teeth clenching and saying “No, no, no, it’s not like that!!” to all the Larry Summers critics, mean that I am turning conservative? Well, I’ll ponder that one later…

    Thanks for the post, Cathy. And your questions are great. I will attempt to put my $.02 in, as a woman scientist, relatively new mother, and (I hope my chairman isn’t reading this), someone who is actively looking for alternative careers.

    1. I am afraid the “leaky pipeline” is worse than you think. I read that the graduate student population in life sciences approached 20/20 male/female sometime in the late 1970’s, so generational correction should have happened long ago if that were the only issue. Women in science have made tremendous gains in the past three decades, with increased numbers at all academic ranks, increased presence in the elite scientific societies, department chairs, Deans of Natural Sciences at the top universities, and in the National Academy, but we are a long way from 50/50. So the pipeline is clearly leaky. Which brings us to the question of why. A very big question, and one that would probably get me dis-invited from all of those “Women in Sciences” lunches, were I to make my opinion known. But here it is-I’ll say it. Women are “opting out” of science. Most women who do that go on to other challenging careers that utilize their scientific expertise. They become editors of scientific journals, professors at liberal arts colleges, consultants for biotech companies, patent lawyers, K-12 scientific curriculum consultants, science policy wonks for the NIH and NSF, or, in some cases, non-tenure track faculty research associates in their husbands’ labs. As for average age, Tilghman co-authored a study in about 1997 that showed that the average age of a newly funded assistant professor in the life sciences is 36!!! That’s freakin’ old. (For the record, I was 35 when I got my first grant as an assistant professor).
    2. Good point. Based on my knowledge and experience (anecdotal, yes, but probably fairly representative of what goes on among life science Ph.Ds), work-family and gender issues are only part of the story. Many smart, talented (and not so smart nor talented) students pursue a Ph.D. in sciences not really knowing what the life is all about, and then in grad school or postdoc phases, decide that it is not, after all, very attractive. Many people fear that it rules out significant interaction with family, some wish to earn more money for their 80-hour week, and others find that an academic science career rules out significant free time for other interests. And still others get annoyed with the culture-a bunch of reflexively left wing navel gazing nerds who spend their whole life trying to figure out how to make a cross vein in a fruit fly wing. I don’t know the numbers-who cites family reasons as a motivation for opting out and who cites other reasons. But in the end these differences may not matter so much-many successful, talented grad students and postdocs have found themselves miserable in science and have decided to pursue greener pastures.
    3. Men and families-great point. I live in a city that has a fairly large scientific community (a top university and a major medical center), and I’ll tell you that the male scientists who have wives with demanding careers (doctors, lawyers, scientists) are struggling more than the male scientists with stay at home wives. The latter group undoubtedly still feels the pull of family desires, still misses their kids when they travel, and probably face a boat-load of resentment when they come home late, but their presence is not required to the degree as the former group, or as women scientist with kids. And I’ll tell you that this is the thorniest issue when it comes to parental caregiver policy making-how to treat men fairly. It’s pretty clear that a scientist with a big bulge in her midsection is going to need some extra time on the tenure clock, but how do you help out the new dad with the surgeon wife without unfairly advantaging the guy with the stay at home wife? And in any case, can’t you cut Ward Cleaver a break so that he CAN stay mostly at home for a while to help out June and bond with the new baby? But of course if you did this it would not be fair to women. However, not doing it is unfair to men.
    4. You got it in one. At least I think so. I don’t blame science for pushing me out (I’m not out yet, just sitting on the fence looking at the other side), and like the women in the Globe article, I cannot say I have ever felt real discrimination. But I am not really sure that science can or should change to suit my personal or family needs. There really is something about that 80-hour week that is essential. And there is something about being able to dedicate most of your mental energy to the task at hand that makes science, an essentially inefficient process, run more smoothly. I am just not as good at it now that I have less time. Some people are, but many are not. Turns out that when you have nearly all of your time available to work, you don’t have to be that efficient. You can try out a bunch of ideas, you can go out drinking with your lab mates and talk about it, and you can spend lots of time in the library reading, so you know what your results mean when you get them. And it is not just bench/library time that matters. You need to travel to conferences, give seminars, make yourself visible by reviewing manuscripts for journals, sitting on grant review panels, etc. All of this is absolutely necessary and terribly demanding. I’m not sure there would be any real benefit to changing it.

    In my response to a previous post, I related an anecdote about critical mass of women at a conference or in a field being about 20%. So we are sort of almost there. Maybe 50/50 isn’t possible, and maybe it isn’t necessary, either.

    Like Rud, I love science, and I feel tremendously empowered by having a deep understanding of the natural world. I also love teaching, truly enjoy my contact with undergraduates, and am finding I quite like involvement in academic policy making. I have no regrets about my time in science, as I am sure it will serve me well in the future. Just not a future in science.

  2. anniesmom03

    Oops, sorry I meant, in response to question #1, that the graduate student popyulation in life sciences neared 50/50 in the late 70’s.

  3. Cal

    I know I keep harping on this, but to what degree would women be struggling with this if they didn’t have someone else to live off of? Rud was married to a teacher, who wouldn’t make much money, but nonetheless someone else was paying the bills.

    But as annies mom (and come on. Outside of a daycare facility, that’s a pretty sad way to identify yourself) points out, men who choose this way of life either do without a wives until they’ve made tenure, or they get wives who are willing to take care of all that in exchange for living expenses and a share of the take.

    That said, I think science is a special case. It’s not particularly well-paid, the “pipeline” squeezes out a lot of people because there aren’t enough jobs. Cue various discussions about foreign grad students and their impact on the job market.

  4. anniesmom03

    I’ll ignore the snipe and respond to the comments. About spouses.

    I do think that the spousal situation of women scientists is highly relevant. I say this with no disdain for people whose situation is more conducive to career-family matters than mine. But I think it is entirely true that the timing for having kids is largely determine not so much by where a woman scientist is in her career, but rahter by her external cirsumstances. If her partner is a physician or a lawyer or either one of them is independently wealthy, or they live near family who can provide free daycare, she is more likely to be able to have kids during the poor phases of the training (grad school and postdoc). Two grad students, or even two postdocs, with no family around to help, can hardly afford to go procreating.

    But cal, can you please get over this “living off” and “the take” nonsense? Many men are only too happy to “support” their wives, and many women are very conscientious about making an equal financial contribution to the household. Most people get the marriage that they deserve.

  5. Cal

    It’s not a snipe. It was a direct comment. It’s quite possible to adore your child without conflating your entire identity with parental status.

    “many women are very conscientious about making an equal financial contribution to the household. “

    Your example referred to mothers who stayed at home, and those were the ones I’m referring to. It’s a polite fiction that they contribute anything of financial value to a household, but they certainly aren’t making an equal contribution. At best, they are offsetting the cost of daycare.

    “Two grad students, or even two postdocs, with no family around to help, can hardly afford to go procreating. “

    Ironically, though, this is probably the best time for them to have children. The kids will be moving out of the high maintenance stage at the right time.

  6. anniesmom03

    “Ironically, though, this is probably the best time for them to have children. The kids will be moving out of the high maintenance stage at the right time.”

    I think you are correct there. I haven’t seen the numbers on this, but again, anecdotal evidence suggests that women scientists who have kids in grad school or postdoc time, who stay in science, are a very productive lot. I suspect that is in part because they adjust early on to the scientist-mother routine, and are less shocked by it at more critical times in their career.

    I was once at dinner with a bunch of older, established women scientists talking about when is the best time to have kids (you can hardly get two or more women scientist together with a bottle of wine without this topic coming up), and the older crowd pretty much unanimously agreed that it was during grad school or postdoc, and not while an assistant professor. But of course the reality is that many women scientists are not situated well for this by virtue of not being married to a rich guy or having mom or mom-in-law living right down the street.

  7. Cal

    Assuming she’s married, it doesn’t really cost all that much money for married grad students to have a kid, does it? They usually have decent daycare at colleges. That’s the primary expense (albeit a nontrivial one).

    Notice how you make this the woman’s problem. If the couple is having a baby, then the couple should be the ones thinking about daycare. But your implicit assumption is not only is it the mom’s problem, but grandma is the only possible alternative option. Women, women everywhere, and never a man to be fussed. I’m not disagreeing; it’s just telling.

    I agree that grad student couples are unlikely to be sharing the childcare burden, because few male grad students would take on a child if the mother won’t be taking on full childcare responsibility. Why should he? He gains nothing and loses a fair amount, in comparison to childless grad students. Thus, the dual student couples wait until they are professionally situated, which is a lousy time to start.

    In fact, I wonder how much of this whole issue is constrained by the fact that men have so many other options, and women have relatively few. If women want to get married and have children, those who want to have a career are competing with those who are (probably unconsciously) going through the motions until they find someone willing to let them stay home. Men don’t lose a thing–if they want a career-oriented wife, they can just put off marriage for fifteen years or so, until they’re well-established and can afford a nanny.

  8. Cathy Young

    I’ll have more to say later, but for now — Cal, I think your gibe at anniesmom03 over her handle is out of line, at least for what I’d like to see on this blog. First of all, a person’s handle really does not tell you all about their identity. Besides, I think that unless someone has a wildly inappropriate handle such as, I don’t know, “Hitlerfan,” they should not be subjected to personal shots over their choice of handle.

  9. jw

    My opinion, for what it is worth: I asked my wife and she agrees.

    Women who want to go into science should seriously consider marrying an older man and having children while in the first six years of their university life. This applies to any of the high power fields.

    Doing so may well add a year or two to undergrad and masters time: There, there is room for a spare year.

    Also, this leaves a father with more freedom when the kids hit their teenage years: Teenagers need a special kind of time …

  10. Paul

    There is a price you pay for having children and having a career especially if you are a woman.

  11. anniesmom03

    Cal, about universities and daycare:
    Many universities do not have daycare. Those that do tend to reserve it for faculty and staff, in an effort to help with faculty retention. It is only in very enlightened places that daycare is available to students, and even then, it costs a fair amount of money. The Globe article mention that Ruds (the Harvard grad student in the story) can not afford Harvard daycare, and in fact probably can’t afford most daycares. It is a significant expense, especially in the large metropolitan areas where the top universities tend to be.

  12. Anonymous

    Academia may simply be “suffering” from an efficient employment market. Every Big Pharma company touts its flexible work options, and long ago realized that 35 brilliant employee hours is better than 80 medicre ones. I don’t know what the rest of non-academic “science” employers do, but I suspect they aren’t too different, and also pay better (certainly on a per hour basis). Maybe the Science department should talk to the B-school from time to time?

  13. Cal

    Cathy, I’ve seen you allow commenters to criticize each other’s opinions. Doesn’t it seem a little odd to allow that while objecting to criticism of a moniker? In any case, it’s probably not a good idea to assume your commenters will share your idea of “wildly inappropriate” (I’d use a very different term to describe Hitlerfan), so maybe you should put together a list. Now, I’ll stop geeking out on your policies and get back to the point:

    “It is a significant expense, especially in the large metropolitan areas where the top universities tend to be. “

    True, I forgot that. It’s probably too costly even with discount. But that leads right to my other point: if you looked at what’s best for the woman, then the grad students could arrange their schedules so that they are both able to put in their time at home, with daycare maybe 2 days a week (for example). But that’s not even close to the best available option for a male grad student. Few would tolerate such an expectation.

    So how much are women’s decisions based (even subconsciously) on the fact that serious pursuit of career puts them at a serious disadvantage in the marriage market? And what, if any, social policies would eliminate or reduce this disadvantage?

    BTW, it’s positively absurd that it’s not a tax deduction instead of a woefully inadequate credit. We should move away from granting a deduction for the mere act of having a child, and instead give deductions for investment.

  14. Katherine

    It certainly isn’t necessary for the academic sciences to be so brutal – we only need to look at corporate scientific careers to see that it isn’t true. I grew up in a town where GE’s R & D facility was the biggest employer. My Dad has worked there as a chemist for almost 30 years, makes a lot of money, has more than 80 patents, and I don’t think he’s ever worked past 5 pm or on a weekend in his life. That’s typical for private science careers – so clearly the 80-hour a week model isn’t “necessary” for productivity.

    On the other hand, if that’s the status quo in academia, then there doesn’t seem to be much use in just expecting the institutions to change. If they can milk 80 hours a week out of a scientist for little pay, then why on earth would they voluntarily choose to receive less? As long as there are more scientists than positions, they can get away with it. And unless we want to mandate 40 hour work weeks by law, it doesn’t seem realistic to expect any employer (public or private) to voluntarily change.

    It seems to me that if someone wants a time-intensive career AND they want children, then they need to marry someone who will take care of the kids and home. That’s what men have always done and it’s worked out fine for them. It’s only a problem now because women want the fancy career, AND the kids, AND a spouse with a career equivalent to their own – which is ridiculous.

    Anniesmom says that the scientists that have the easiest time of their work/family issues are those that have stay-at-home wives. So why don’t the women scientists get stay-at-home husbands? I am continually frustrated by the problems women seem to create for themselves. I took the Hirshman route myself – I “married down” (I’m a lawyer, my husband didn’t finish college). Out of all the female law students and lawyers I know, I don’t know a single other one that did the same. Most are married to doctors, dentists, or other lawyers. On the other hand, many of my male colleagues have wives who either don’t work, work part-time, or work in less time-intensive careers. Not suprisingly, all the big firms in town have only 5 – 10% female partners, even though half of all new associates are women. I know that I’ll probably be one of the only women among my group of associates that makes partner in my firm, and it’s because I have a spouse that takes care of me and the house. Just like the male partners have. Most of the women partners either don’t have kids or only sleep 4 hours a night.

    I just can’t imagine where anyone got the idea that it could or should be possible to have two people in time-intensive careers and also have children?? It strikes me as greedy…

    Ladies – Hirshman was right. If you want the fancy career AND kids, you need to marry a man with less earning capacity/education (or at least one who’s willing to give it up to be the primary parent). If you don’t, you’re in for 2 decades of sleep-deprivation and misery. It’s an easy thing to do and is much more effective than complaining about how institutions need to change so your life is better. And take it from me – it’s a delightful way to live.

  15. Anonymous

    And take it from me – it’s a delightful way to live.

    If you find the sole-breadwinner role “delightful,” your family already has sufficient wealth or comparitively low enough wants/needs that you’d find dual-breadwinner (at lower pay/stress/hours for you) delightful as well. The Joneses ruin it for the rest of us sole-breadwinners.

  16. Anonymous

    You know, it really is telling that this discussion always ends up being about women and their choices. It takes two to tango, and rarely do you see couples having kids (except by accident) when both didn’t decide to have the child. I certainly know women who were pretty ambivalent about motherhood, and only caved in because of pressure from their husbands.

    It seems more than greedy to me that couples think they both can have massively demanding careers and then kids. It seems crazy.

    I know what people want changes over time, so I can certainly understand a shift in priorities. However, if you knew you wanted the demanding career AND the kids, why on earth wouldn’t you marry someone who would be willing to do most of the caretaking? Jeez, I knew I DIDN’T want kids, and if the women I dated expressed the desire to have kids some day, I ruled them out as relationship material. Lucky for me, as a lesbian, it can’t happen by accident.


  17. Cathy Young

    I think it’s worth noting that most of the women mentioned in the article were not thinking of becoming full-time mothers, but of finding careers where the hours would be less demanding.

    It is also worth noting that unlike, say, law or corporate management, science is a field in which long and grueling hours often coexist with low pay. Can a male scientist working in academia afford to be a sole or primary breadwinner?

    Katherine: I think you make a very valid point that women who want challenging careers and children should at least consider marrying a man who is not career-oriented. But here’s why I think your praise for Linda Hirshman is misplaced. Her article seemed to be based on the premise that a life without a stellar career is a “lesser life.” How does one then persuade men to embrace such a life, or women to marry such “lesser beings”?

  18. Katherine

    I agree that Linda Hirshman was unnecessarily disdainful of those without powerful careers – and seriously undermined her argument in doing so. I always assumed that it came from the fact that she’s a women’s studies professor. I imagined her working daily in an environment soaked in victimhood and just losing it with frustration and going overboard with her rhetoric. I admit that that’s an unfounded assumption on my part though.

    As to convincing people to become “lesser beings” and take on the primary caretaker role – I don’t think that’s a problem. Particularly among the younger generation, the desire to spend more time with family seems to be strong with both men and women (disclosure, I’m 29).

    But convincing women to accept these “lesser beings” as spouses is another thing altogether. I get told all the time that women will never “marry down” in large numbers because we’re biologically predisposed to desire mates with lots of resources. That we can’t respect a man that doesn’t make more than we do. But here’s the irony: I would NEVER speak of my husband in the same tones of contempt, resentment, and ridicule that most women I know who “married up” do. I admire and appreciate my husband, and I think he’s a better person that me in many ways. I would never speak badly about him to others. Yet many wives I know routinely criticize, make fun of, and denigrate their husbands. They portray them as clueless doofuses who can’t take care of themselves, or selfish jerks that aren’t interested enough in their children. And there’s real resentment behind it. So if that’s the kind of “respect” that women are supposedly biologically predestined to feel for high-earning men, then no thanks.

    But the social expectation that men must be taller, older, and richer than their wives is strong, and I don’t know how to change it. For one thing, there’s no social pressure against it, the way there is against sexist stereotypes about women.

    As to whether a family can afford to live on one income, such as that of an academic, this is highly dependent on location and cost of living. I’m sure it’s impossible for families that live on the coasts. But for those of us that live in unfashionable cities like Denver, Salt Lake, or Omaha, it’s still entirely doable.

  19. Cal

    “Can a male scientist working in academia afford to be a sole or primary breadwinner?”

    The male scientist in academia is working towards tenure. If tenured professors have suddenly become less acceptable breadwinners, I missed the news bulletin.

    “of finding careers where the hours would be less demanding.”

    Less demanding and, by implication, less lucrative. A choice that a woman is likely to make only if she’s got a husband covering the costs of her desired lifestyle.

    As for Hirshman, I’d be interested to see where you think she dismisses those who don’t opt for a “stellar” career. You appear to misquote her here:

    “Her article seemed to be based on the premise that a life without a stellar career is a ‘lesser life.'”

    In fact, what Hirshman said was:

    “A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one’s capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one’s own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world. Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives. ” (emphasis mine.)

    A woman who chooses to live off of someone else has no autonomy, and she is not using her capacity for speech and reason in a prudent way. That’s indisputable. I see no requirement for a “stellar” career. I do see a dismissal of “motherhood” as a career, but the facts aren’t really in dispute on that point.

    Did I miss that expectation?

  20. jw

    Katherine makes a strong point in implying that there is little social pressure against misandry.

    I’d extend that to say that we cannot solve women’s problems with work/children/home without first solving the problem of misandry. Remove the sexism targeted at men and more options open for women.

  21. Robert

    A while ago I wrote a post about women making different choices than men in their careers, for rational reasons.

    It appears to me that people who go into academia often seem to have difficulty making these kinds of life choices. People with an academic mindset seem to be somewhat more susceptible to the idea that because some factor is unfair, they shouldn’t have to consider it – and then they make a decision that ignores it, but it turns out to be (surprise) operative – and it wrecks their life.

    The unpleasant factor that academics seem to ignore is this: raising a child is a full-time job for the first several years of life. The full-time job can be split among multiple people, or it can be done by one person – but it’s a full-time job. If the parents aren’t putting in that time, then they need to have the resources (familial or economic) to hire someone else to do it. Period.

  22. anniesmom03

    I just noticed that in your first response (comment #3), you say that I pointed out that “men who choose this way of life either do without a wives until they’ve made tenure, or they get wives who are willing to take care of all that in exchange for living expenses and a share of the take”.

    Actually, I did not point that out because it is not true. Many male scientists are married to women who work outside the home, and many get married long before they have tenure, long before they have a Ph.D. even.

    So again, not only is what you said not true, but you falsely attributed it to me.

    Another general point I would like to make. Many comments on this thread give all sorts of advice about when and who people should marry to make their career work out right.

    Have any of you people ever fallen in love? Did ya time it to coincide with other events in your life?

    Have your priorities ever changed as you got older and wiser? Did it not cause any kind of disruptions toyour previous plans?

    Just to lighten things up a little, I’ll quote Lennon (John) here:

    “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”

    I think there are a few kernals of truth in robert’s swipe at academics-though I would extend it to many high-performing careers. The people that go into this stuff are unusually driven in their early 20’s, and they tend to think much more about where they want to be professionally in ten years than what their personal lives will look like,and they have a good sense of how to achieve their career goals, but very little sense of how to make their personal lives fit in lock-step with their (idealized) career goals (‘cuz it’s impossible?! maybe?). Then life happens, and the career goals either fit or they don’t. So most people make adjustments. But many, like the chorus of Larry Summers critics, and womens studies professors like Hirshman, tell the adjustment-makers that we either “quit” because we are socially programmed to be submissive in our marrige and family, or we got pushed out by all those men who discriminated against us.

  23. Cal

    Annie’s mom–Fair enough. I was focusing on your implication that men did much better if they didn’t have a wife who worked, but then wrote about men who chose this way of life. So I should have added “or had a wife with a career and a lot more stress.”

    “Have any of you people ever fallen in love? Did ya time it to coincide with other events in your life?”

    That must be it. No one here, or indeed, no one who discusses this subject dispassionately, has ever been in love and consequently can’t understand the special specialness of grand passion that drives people like you to change your plans.

    Or, possibly, we are merely observing the remarkable predictability with which women who fall in love drop or subordinate their careers to the men in their lives, while men don’t seem to make the same choices.

    So yeah, I suppose you can pretend that all these choices are just an inevitable outcome of emotion that could happen to anyone–except, of course, it mostly happens to women.

  24. Cathy Young

    First of all, I think one thing that should be noted here is that the women who are profiled in this article are not contemplating withdrawing from the workforce, but leaving the scientific field and taking jobs in the private sector, where they will have shorter hours and probably higher pay.

    Second: Cal, I think that Hirshman definitely suggests that if your career is secondary to your spouse’s, you have a “lesser life.” The fact is that if two people are raising a family, it’s quite likely that for one of them, at least for a period of time, career will be secondary. Why is there anything wrong with that, if that’s their mutual wish? And why are we (you, Hirshman) assuming that a primary-school teacher is “using the capacity for speech and reason in a prudent way” less than a corporate lawyer?

    I also think that both Hirshman and you are far too dismissive of the value of unpaid work done in the family and community. I don’t think that children are harmed when both parents work, but if raising children primarily in parent care and with the extra attention that a parent at home (or with a part-time job) can provide is a value to the parents, what business is that of yours or Hirshman’s and why is the primary parent “living off” the other parent? I agree that it would be a good thing for more men to be in those roles and for men to have mroe social and cultural freedom to be in those roles, but as I’ve said before — that’s not going to be accomplished by denigrating those tasks.

  25. mythago

    Maybe, she thinks, she’ll go into patent law.

    Good grid. Does this woman have any idea how many hours patent lawyers work?

    Her article seemed to be based on the premise that a life without a stellar career is a “lesser life.”

    Her article correctly notes that if a life without a stellar career were so great, we’d see more men opting out. These ‘family is important’ arguments, as other posters have noted, always seem to presume that no man would ever give up his career unless it was kind of a crappy, low-paid one anyway. This attitude–that the woman’s career is ‘secondary’ unless the man’s is truly low-status/low-wage–is always papered over with platitudes about the Importance of Family and how being a kindergarten teacher is just as important as being corporate counsel for IBM.

    Yet these platitudes evaporate when we look at Daddy’s choices. About the only thing that’s said about whether Daddy should work is that the poor dear isn’t given the option to lie around and eat bonbons all day while the kids play outside. Poor Daddy!

  26. Cathy Young

    Your statement presumes that men can do pretty much anything they want, and women can’t. I don’t accept that premise.

    Actually, about 10 years ago, Fortune ran an interesting article about women who left high-level corporate jobs, not to stay home with the children (most of the women profiled in the article had no children and some weren’t married), but to pursue work they found more fulfilling — as anything from artists to teachers to old house remodelers to private detectives. The article quoted a therapist who said that he saw many successful men in his practice who voiced similar dreams and aspirations but rarely acted on them — partly because they feared the social stigma of trading a higher-status job for a lower-status one, partly because “their wives wouldn’t let them.”

    I know I’ve asked you this before, but did you ever read Peggy Orenstein’s Flux? Because that book, based on interviews with about 200 young women, makes it very clear that most of them want to be the ones with the option to work part-time or not work at all. And they do not want men to have these options, because, after all, for the woman to exercise the choice to stay home, work part-time or work in a less lucrative but “fulfilling” job, the man has to foot the bills.

    The other day, a woman in her late twenties who read this thread told me that she plans to significantly curtail her professional work after having children, and that she could not envision working full-time while her husband was primarily at home, because she would “always feel like a bit of a stranger in her own home.” She was emphatically not saying that all women should feel this way, or that women who don’t feel this way should be stigmatized. But she also feels strongly that this is what’s right for her, and I think it would be pretty arrogant to tell her she shouldn’t.

  27. mythago

    Your statement presumes that men can do pretty much anything they want, and women can’t.

    No, that’s what you inferred. My statement was that men are ‘stuck’ with an option that gives them more power, prestige and money. Women are discouraged from choosing that option and are told that, really, the option that gives them not only less of those things, but more dependency on their husbands, is somehow better.

    I wonder how many of those women in Flux would have chosen a life with an at-home husband if they really believed that were an option. There aren’t that many men who would happily agree to such an arrangement.

    As for your unnamed example, I wouldn’t presume to tell her that she’s “wrong”. I do, however, wonder how she feels about pushing her husband out of his home, and decreeing that he should feel like a stranger so that she won’t.

  28. Cal

    “I think that Hirshman definitely suggests that if your career is secondary to your spouse’s, you have a “lesser life.” “

    Given that you use the “lesser life” quote, I think it’s quite unfair to misrepresent it. I quoted the relevant text, and she is saying that based on a particular definition (not hers), a woman who gives up autonomy is living a “lesser life”. You may also feel that she is dismissing women who don’t work out of the home, but you haven’t provided any quotes to support this.

    “The fact is that if two people are raising a family, it’s quite likely that for one of them, at least for a period of time, career will be secondary. Why is there anything wrong with that, if that’s their mutual wish? “

    The issue isn’t whether or not there is anything wrong with it. The issue is the social costs borne by that choice. Society pays for these women who have children and lives that they haven’t a hope of affording on their own.

    You seem awfully sure that it’s necessary to make a career secondary, as opposed to a choice.

    “And why are we (you, Hirshman) assuming that a primary-school teacher is “using the capacity for speech and reason in a prudent way” less than a corporate lawyer?”

    You don’t appear to be reading clearly. Hirshman was referring to “upper class moms”, which were those who stayed at home. I recognize that many women just take a lesser job, and have said so more than once. The difference is between a woman who has no autonomy, and a woman who can’t afford the life that she wants.

    “But she also feels strongly that this is what’s right for her, and I think it would be pretty arrogant to tell her she shouldn’t. “

    I don’t think it’s arrogant at all to form a judgment about her actions. I have no hesitation in characterizing her expectations as extremely unpleasant. As mythago observes, she wants her husband to bear the life that she doesn’t want all for her own comfort. So from a moral perspective, I find her shallow and cheap and, should she mention her plans to me, I’d tell her that she’s the sort of person who validates the “lesser sex” designation.

    I see no reason why society should support her in her stupidity, and as I said before, that’s quite different from preventing her from taking these steps. So sure, let her treat her husband as a wallet. Just don’t allow her to make that choice secure in the knowledge that she’ll get child support, community property, tax exemptions, and Social Security.

    So the real question isn’t “why tell her she shouldn’t” but “why do we give her money to do it?”

    “I also think that both Hirshman and you are far too dismissive of the value of unpaid work done in the family and community. “

    Yes. I fully expect you to write an ode to lawnmowers and garbage dumpers and the value they bring to the family.

    Unpaid work is just that. We all do it. So why do we glorify one group of women who stay home (or work lesser jobs) in order to do more of it?

  29. Anonymous

    Mythago, why do we do it?

    Because, unlike most careers, being a mom is a fundamentally important role in human society.

    No amount of social engineering can replace it.

    Why should stay-at-home moms be given less than the bum who slept through high school and can’t get a job to save his life? She’s at least attributing to society.

  30. Anonymous

    That was directed to cal, not mythago. Infinite pardons.


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