Though perception is that academia is harder on women when it comes to career and families, and they need to adopt a more corporate approach to penalize mothers less, it isn't just women; one third of men in academic science scale back their careers to focus on family life, according to surveys.
University labs share a lot of culture with the corporate world - just tinier. A lab is like a small business, with just a few employees and in the midst an ongoing effort to stay in business, so the loss of any person is devastating. When a parent needs to scale back, there is no one to take up the slack in that kind of super-competitive environment.
Because the social sciences are overwhelmingly female, and the life sciences are slightly more female, the culture war on gender lines is less and less meaningful because the lines are no longer there. Yet science is hard and it is competitive - for every lab getting a grant, nine labs did not. People who fall behind are encouraged to go work in the private sector or government, where things are less strenuous. Men have always recognized that and made the sacrifice because women used to work outside the home less. Given more common dual careers today, some in the survey said they expected to not have children, because they saw fatherhood as incompatible with the demands of academic science.
The survey consisted of in-depth interviews with 74 men across different ranks in biology and physics at U.S. universities. The interviews were conducted between June 2009 and April 2011 and took between 20 minutes and two hours. Each respondent was interviewed once, either in person or by phone. The average age of men in the sample was 41; the median age was 39.
The researchers asked participants about whether they had children, were raising children and maintaining a career as a scientist, career challenges and future steps, how their careers impacted the number of children they chose to have, balancing their career and their spouse's career/household duties and other topics.
"These findings suggest to us that the academy does not merely have a gender problem, but also a child-rearing problem -- men who want to have and spend time with their children likely will face challenges in academic science," said Penn State sociologist Sarah Damaske, who wrote the paper with Elaine Howard Ecklund, Professor of Sociology at Rice University, Anne Lincoln, associate professor of sociology at Southern Methodist University, and Virginia White, graduate student at the University of Chicago.
Missing from a paper about how men feel about the pressure to balance family life; any men.
The sociologists said that one-third of men in academic science largely expect to be involved equally at home and are willing to reduce their work devotion to do so. The study also showed that 64 percent of men interviewed spoke of their desire to be more involved at home and indicated that they make efforts to spend increased time at home. However, 15 percent of respondents chose to forgo childrearing, either by marrying and making a commitment not to have children or by remaining single with no intention of having children.
Ecklund said the work-life balance of male scientists is not as well studied as other aspects of family life.
"Despite the growing amount of research devoted to women in science, there has been relatively little research on the work-life balance of men in academic science," Ecklund said. "The majority of existing research on academic men has focused on differences between men and women, leaving us with little information about variation among male scientists. Yet, academic science remains dominated by men, so we need to know if they deal with the same issues balancing work and family life as do women."