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As I understand academic career progression, the move to the "next level" (be it postdoc, senior lecturer, assistant professor, full professor, etc) is most dependent on two factors: research output and funding earned. However to get that research output and funding proposals, one obviously can't be on maternity leave. Does that mean that deciding to have children jeopardizes one's academic career progression?

Concrete example: European PhDs take shorter to complete (~3 years) than American ones (~5 years). Accordingly, American PhDs have an advantage applying for fellowships after graduation since they will have done more research and published more papers. However if a female American PhD student decides to have five pregnancies in those five years, she will have effectively only "worked" for 3 years and 9 months (since five pregnancies = 15 months of maternity leave). This means she's still at an advantage compared to her European counterparts, but is disadvantaged compared to her American peers. In other words, her decision to have children jeopardized her academic career.

Is this picture correct? If not, why not? The obvious guess is that this student will not be disadvantaged in the job market because she won't be able to graduate in 5 years, but if that's the case, then it still sounds like she's disadvantaged compared to her peers who didn't have children.

I'm tagging this question with "gender" because although in principle these issues can also affect men whose partners have children, the stress of having children is clearly different for fathers and mothers.

EDIT: Since the question is apparently unclear.

  • The question is whether having children jeopardizes one's academic career progression.
  • The argument for this being the case is that, if one has children, one's work comes to a complete halt. Research stops, papers don't get written, funding doesn't get acquired - and these are the things which is used to judge whether or not to promote an academic.
  • Comparatively, in industry, someone will continue the work while the worker is away on leave. This minimizes the damage. For example suppose Alice is an expert at underwater basket weaving. Even if she has five pregnancies in five years, the 3 years 9 months in which she is working is plenty of time to demonstrate that yes, she is an expert at underwater basket weaving, she is good & passionate at her job, she turns out more baskets than others in unit time, etc, and therefore when promotion time rolls around she is a natural candidate for promotion.
  • If the answer is "yes", then between two otherwise-equal women, the person who has fewer children climbs the academic ladder the fastest. She will graduate first, find a tenured position first, become a full professor first. This is clearly advantageous because with each promotion, the new position is better than the previous one. In this case, an answer drawing on sources that show that it is indeed advantageous not to have children will answer the question.
  • If the answer is "no", then it is not true that between two otherwise-equal women, the person who has fewer children climbs the academic ladder fastest. This implies there is some compensating factor that allows the person with more children to compete with her colleague with fewer children. For example, the fact that while one is on maternity leave the "clock stops" is such a factor. If Alice decides to have five pregnancies in five years, she will still be able to climb the academic ladder - she won't get fired because she's not turning out papers, for example.
  • However if the answer is "no", this "clock stopping" is not a complete explanation because it doesn't apply to real age, only to academic age. Alice is 3.75 years old academically, but in real life 5 years has passed. Compared to her colleague who didn't have children, she is still behind by 1.25 years. Therefore a "no" answer indicates there are some other factors still at play, in which case the question asks what those factors are.

If this doesn't clarify what the question is asking please leave a comment because I don't see how it is unclear.

Related:

closed as unclear what you're asking by David Ketcheson, user3209815, Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩, Azor Ahai, Dmitry Savostyanov Mar 6 at 22:23

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Are you asking specifically about women who have children? Your question implies it but do you also want to hear about men who have children and take paternity leave? – Azor Ahai Mar 5 at 5:17
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    "European PhDs take shorter to complete (~3 years) than American ones (~5 years). Accordingly, American PhDs have an advantage applying for fellowships after graduation since they will have done more research and published more papers": No, you have quite some misconceptions on the European PhDs. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 5 at 5:32
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    Typically time spent on leave is not counted towards maximum or expected completion time for degree programs, and often it is counted by the academic term rather than by the month. If a program is normally completed in, say, 5 years (10 semesters), then a person who spends 2 semesters on parental leave would be expected to take a total of 6 years (10 semesters enrolled and 2 semesters on leave), and might well have produced the same amount of work as a fellow student who spent 10 semesters enrolled with no leave. – Nate Eldredge Mar 5 at 5:40
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    As @MassimoOrtolano suggests, a typical 5-year American PhD doesn't involve 5 years of research; more like 2 or 3. The first couple of years are often mostly coursework, roughly comparable to a European master's degree (American PhD programs usually do not require a master's). – Nate Eldredge Mar 5 at 5:42
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    While the question itself is very interesting, the way it is framed is problematic. In particular the reasoning in the second paragraph is very questionable. Even ignoring the dubious assumptions, it's tempting to "count" things this way to make the point but I don't think it makes sense. The main way in which having children could affect somebody's career is not the clearly limited time of the pregnancy leave, it's everything related to taking care of the children after that. But it's much harder to calculate how the additional cognitive load affects one's research work! – Erwan Mar 5 at 14:52
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However if a female American PhD student decides to have five pregnancies in those five years, she will have effectively only "worked" for 3 years and 9 months (since five pregnancies = 15 months of maternity leave).

Wow. If there were a female PhD student who had five pregnancies in five years, I've never met them. I'm (a woman) currently working on my PhD. While I've known students who have chosen to have one child during their PhD, they had children near the end of their degree (not while in coursework). It's hard to juggle PhD work with other responsibilities, such as the full-time job of raising a child.

I've decided to put off having a family until after my PhD. Personally, I wouldn't be able to work as much if I were sick all of the time during pregnancy, going through a variety of hormonal changes, and having to go in for regular check-ups with a doctor. I live far away from any family members or close friends who could take care of the baby while I need to be away for a conference, for instance. On top of that, PhD student/candidate salaries are barely enough for one person to live on, which adds another issue when deciding to have a child while in a PhD program.

I'm amazed by the people who can manage to raise children while working on their PhDs. I'm just not one of them.

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    I was amazed by just the "five pregnancies" part. – Elizabeth Henning Mar 6 at 21:01
  • @Elizabeth Henning There’s plenty of religious groups that encourage couples to have lots of children, like the Quiverfull movement. I’m sure at least one or two of them might want to get a degree. Surely you wouldn’t discriminate, right? ;) – nick012000 Mar 7 at 2:12
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    @nick012000 Who, besides you, said anything about discriminating? – Elizabeth Henning Mar 7 at 2:38
  • @ElizabethHenning You said you were amazed by the "five pregnancies" part, implying that women who had lots of children wouldn't be welcome. My apologies if I misunderstood you. – nick012000 Mar 7 at 5:03
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    Problem is, it does not get much better after the PhD: PostDocs and tenure tracks are often more stressful than the PhD phase. – Maarten Buis Mar 8 at 16:02
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My impression of my field (sociology) in my countries (Netherlands + Germany) is that in older generations successful women tended to be childless. This would support your hypothesis that, at least in the past, having children was somehow (perceived to be) detrimental to a woman's career. However, in my cohort that does not seem to be the case anymore. My impression is that having (multiple) children has become the rule also, or even especially, among the really successful women.

This may be because policy is finally implemented and is becoming effective, or maybe modern couples no longer want to play the game of making trade-offs between private live and career (millennials), and maybe it is just that my network mainly consists of academics who are also parents.

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