Gender-Neutral Family Policies Help Men Succeed

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The life of an academic.
The life of an academic.Photo: peepo

In the ’90s and early ’00s, many American universities adopted policies that extended the time period of tenure evaluation for academics by an extra year, in order to make room for more female academics to have children and not feel that they were put at a disadvantage in their race for tenure. The policies were gender-neutral, meaning both men and women were given the extra wiggle room before being given tenure.

New research reveals that, at the universities that adopted these policies, tenure extensions have succeeded at enabling men to improve their careers and achieve tenure. The research, performed by Claremont McKenna College professor Heather Antecol, University of California Santa Barbara professor Kelly Bedard, and Jenna Stearns, a doctoral student at Santa Barbara looked at how these policies affected women and male economists. Their findings are rather surprising:

The policies led to a 19 percentage-point rise in the probability that a male economist would earn tenure at his first job. In contrast, women’s chances of gaining tenure fell by 22 percentage points. Before the arrival of tenure extension, a little less than 30 percent of both women and men at these institutions gained tenure at their first jobs. The decline for women is therefore very large. It suggests that the new policies made it extraordinarily rare for female economists to clear the tenure hurdle.

The researchers also found that in the year that male professors had parental leave, they took the time to actually publish their research, while women’s output remained the same. One would assume that is due to women actually bearing the physical burden of having children.

The New York Times spoke with Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, who pointed out that what is supposed to be a gender-neutral policy actually only aids men to have more free time, while during her pregnancy she “threw up every day,” proving that “giving birth is not a gender-neutral event.”