Research Spotlight: Study shows scientists want more children

Stock photo of woman scientist with test tubesNearly half of all women scientists and one-quarter of male scientists at the nation’s top research universities said their career has kept them from having as many children as they had wanted, according to a new study by Rice University and SMU.

The study, “Scientists Want More Children,” was authored by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice and Anne Lincoln of SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. The research appears in the current issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

For the past three years, Ecklund and Lincoln have been studying what junior and senior scientists in physics, astronomy and biology think about discrimination, family life and the state of their careers. They found that both men and women say having a science career means they will have fewer children than they wanted, “because of the long hours and the pressure of publishing and grant-getting needed to get tenure,” Ecklund said.

Survey data from more than 30 research universities and 2,500 scientists indicated that twice as many women (45.4 percent) as men (24.5 percent) reported that they had fewer children than they wanted as a result of having a career in science, Ecklund said. The researchers expected to find that women would be harder hit by this reality than men. However, when they did more analysis, they found that women were actually more satisfied with their lives than were men. And having fewer children than wanted has a more pronounced effect on life satisfaction for male scientists.

“The fact that having fewer children than desired has a greater impact on men’s life satisfaction is an important finding because most research on the relationship between family life and pursuing a career in science has focused almost exclusively on the lives of women,” Ecklund said.

The study also provides insight into the impact of family factors on the projected career track for those just entering the profession. Among junior scientists (graduate students and postdoctoral fellows), a greater proportion of women than men worry that a science career will prevent them from having a family. When surveying graduate students, the researchers found that 29 percent of women but only 7 percent of men worry that a science career will keep them from having a family.

“It is not surprising that by the time scientists reach the postdoctoral level, women are much less likely than men to report considering a tenure-track academic job at a research university,” Lincoln said.

Ecklund and Lincoln also confirmed earlier work done on family life and science careers. They found that in contrast to men (11.5 percent), a greater proportion of women (15 percent) were dissatisfied with their roles as faculty members. Both men and women with children work fewer hours than those without children. But Ecklund and Lincoln said they were surprised to find that women with children do not work fewer hours than men with children (54.5 hours for women vs. 53.9 hours for men).

Courtesy of Rice University

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Research Spotlight: Study shows gender gap in scholarly awards

Stock photo of scientist in laboratoryWomen scientists must confront sexism when competing for scholarly awards, according to a new analysis.

Research funded by the National Science Foundation and sponsored by the Association for Women in Science found that female scientists win service or teaching awards in proportion to the number of women in the Ph.D. pool for their discipline, says SMU sociologist Anne Lincoln.

However, that’s not the case for awards for their research, says Lincoln, one of three authors on the analysis, which was reported in Nature. The number of women who win scholarly awards is far fewer, the authors report.

“Using data in the public domain on 13 disciplinary societies, we found that the proportion of female prizewinners in 10 of these was much lower than the proportion of female full professors in each discipline,” the authors write.

Why the gap? Lincoln, an assistant professor in the Sociology Department of Dedman College, and her co-authors point to the award selection process.

An analysis found that selection committees carry out their duties with few guidelines, minimal oversight and little attention to conflict-of-interest issues, the authors write. The researchers’ investigation found that the chances a woman will win an award for her research improve if a woman is serving on the committee. But many committees have no female members, few have female chairs, and there are few female nominees, said the authors.

Nomination letters for women typically include personal details and contain stereotypically female adjectives, such as “cooperative” and “dependable,” the authors report in the article.

“Notices soliciting nominations, by contrast, tend to use language that fosters male images, such as ‘decisive’ or ‘confident,'” they say.

Co-authors were Stephanie H. Pincus, founder of the RAISE Project, sponsored by the Society for Women’s Health Research; and biochemist Phoebe S. Leboy at the University of Pennsylvania and past president of the Association for Women in Science.

Seven U.S. science societies are working now with the Association for Women in Science and using the findings to change selection committee practices, say the authors.

Written by Margaret Allen

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Faculty in the News: Nov. 30, 2010

Mike Davis on KXAS TVAnne Lincoln, Sociology, Dedman College, provided expertise for a story on declining male enrollment in veterinary colleges that appeared in The Toronto Star Nov. 29, 2010.

Mike Davis (left), Finance, Cox School of Business, talked about the marketing challenges faced by older shopping malls in their quest to retain young shoppers for a segment that aired on KXAS Channel 5 News Nov. 26, 2010. Watch the KXAS News video in a new window. video

Jeffrey Kahn, Dedman School of Law, provided expertise for an editorial about Russia’s “dictatorship of law” and its treatment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former owner of the country’s largest oil company. The piece appeared in The New York Times Nov. 20, 2010.

Bud Weinstein, Maguire Energy Institute, Cox School of Business, wrote about addressing the United States’ deficit problem in an op-ed that appeared in AOL News Nov. 12, 2010.

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Dedman College, talked about the political gamesmanship surrounding the START treaty with The San Francisco Examiner Nov. 18, 2010.

Dan Howard, Marketing, Cox School of Business, discussed Pizza Hut’s marketing strategy in its use of employees in its advertising for a story that appeared in The Dallas Morning News Nov. 17, 2010.

Al Niemi, Dean, Cox School of Business, provided expertise for a column by Cheryl Hall on how the Federal Reserve’s second round of “quantitative easing” is meant to help the American public. The piece appeared in The Dallas Morning News Nov. 10, 2010.

Research Spotlight: Why women now dominate the veterinary field

Woman vet with horseWomen now dominate the field of veterinary medicine – the result of a nearly 40-year trend that is likely to repeat itself in the fields of medicine and law.

That’s the conclusion of a new study that found three factors that appear to be driving the change: the 1972 federal amendment that outlaws discrimination against female students; male applicants to graduate schools who may be deterred by a growing number of women enrolling; and the increasing number of women earning Bachelor’s degrees in numbers that far exceed those of male graduates, says sociologist Anne Lincoln.

SMU sociologist Anne LincolnAn assistant professor of sociology in SMU’s Dedman College, Lincoln (right) is an expert on how occupations transition from being either male- or female-dominated. Her study is the first of its kind to analyze the feminization of veterinary medicine from the perspective of examining the pool of applicant data to U.S. veterinary medical colleges from 1975 to 1995, Lincoln said.

As of 2010, the veterinary profession is about 50 percent men and 50 percent women, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, while enrollment in veterinary medical colleges is about 80 percent women.

Conventional occupational research identifies a flip in the gender make-up of a profession by looking at the number of men and women who get hired into that profession, Lincoln said. The current study broke with that convention and instead measured the number of male and female applicants to veterinary medical colleges.

By quantifying the number of men and women attempting to enter veterinary medical colleges the study could determine whether feminization is caused by gender bias in the acceptance process. Lincoln found no evidence of acceptance bias.

“There was really only one variable where I found an effect, and that was the proportion of women already enrolled in vet med schools,” Lincoln said. “So perhaps a young male student says he’s going to visit a veterinary medical school, and when he sees a classroom with a lot of women he changes his choice of graduate school. That’s what the findings indicate.”

The study puts to rest the long-held notion that men are more concerned than women about the cost of tuition and salaries when choosing a professional field, according to Lincoln.

“There’s always been this notion for any field that feminizes that women don’t care about salaries because they have a husband’s earnings to fall back on,” Lincoln said. “But this study found that men and women are equally affected by tuition and salaries, and that what’s really driving feminization of the field is what I call ‘preemptive flight’ – men not applying because of women’s increasing enrollment. Also, fewer men than women are graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, so they aren’t applying because they don’t have the prerequisites.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reports that for the academic year 1980-81, the number of men and women earning Bachelor’s degrees was about the same, around 460,000. From that year on, however, the number of women earning a Bachelor’s increased much faster than the number of men. For 2009-10, 811,000 women earned Bachelor’s degrees, compared to 562,000 men.

In addition, veterinary medicine began to shift after the 1972 passage of Title IX, the federal amendment that prohibits discrimination against female students. The amendment forever altered the way vet med colleges responded to female applicants, Lincoln said.

“I found that after 1972, when the barriers to entry were dropped, women began enrolling in larger numbers,” Lincoln said. “Male applicants dropped sharply after 1976, the first year that applicant statistics were collected.

“That’s why this study is really pushing the boundaries,” Lincoln added. “This is an occupation that is changing even as I analyze it, so I can watch it as it’s changing. Indications are that it will continue to shift even further toward women, beyond the current 50-50.”

The same phenomenon likely will be seen in coming years in the male-dominated fields of medicine and law, given the increasing numbers of women now entering those fields.

“We can use veterinary medicine as a predictor of what is going to happen in medicine and law,” Lincoln said. “It may take 27 years for medicine and law to become gender-integrated. The pharmacist profession earlier experienced this ‘occupational jostling.’ It takes decades for a profession to feminize because an occupation that is mostly male is going to have generational turnover as the more senior practitioners retire.”

Written by Margaret Allen

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Research Spotlight: Probing the gender gap in science

Standing out from the crowdAccording to the National Research Council (2006), women earned 44.7 percent of the doctorates awarded in the biological sciences between 1993 and 2004, yet comprised only 30.2 percent of the assistant professors at the top 50 U.S. universities. In physics, the gap is far wider. Anne Lincoln, assistant professor of sociology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanity and Sciences, researches the reasons for the gender disparities.

Last September Lincoln received a 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s Research on Gender in Science and Engineering program to examine women’s and men’s reasons for pursuing academic science careers as well as their perceptions about women’s contributions to academic science. Lincoln and a team of four sociology undergraduate students are nearing the completion of the sampling database – a list of all faculty and graduates students at top-20 biology and physics graduate departments in the United States – and will randomly select 2,500 of them to participate in an Internet-based survey. A subsample of about 150 respondents will later be selected for more in-depth interviews, which will take place in 2009.

Read more from the SMU Research magazine.