[Parentsgroup-list] Plugging the Pipeline

Alireza Doostdar alireza at doostdar.com
Fri Dec 12 16:04:22 EST 2008


Plugging the Pipeline
Graduate student Arielle Kuperberg explores the impact of motherhood
on graduate education for women.
Peter Nichols

As if graduate school wasn't hard enough, more and more women are
juggling post-baccalaureate study with taking care of kids. That's the
finding of Ph.D. candidate Arielle Kuperberg in "Motherhood and
Graduate Education: 1970-2000." Her study was published in the
Population Research and Policy Review.

Kuperberg, a doctoral student in sociology and demography, compiles
and crunches data on family-life transitions, including cohabitation,
marriage, divorce and childbearing. She also looks at shifting gender
roles in the American family.

"No, I'm not a mom," she confides, "although I was asked that
constantly while I was working on this paper." The study came out of
an academic conference she attended as an undergrad. A panelist talked
about high dropout rates for women at every level of academia and
blamed faculty maternity-leave policies that were not family friendly.
"At the time, I was gearing up to apply to graduate school," Kuperberg
recalls, "so naturally it occurred to me, What about before women get
to the faculty level?" As she started to look into fertility data on
graduate students, she discovered that no one had ever carried out a
rigorous investigation of the topic.

The 1970s were a time of change in gender roles in America. More women
entered the work force and fewer got married. Those who married did so
and had children later in life. The years between 1970 and 2000 saw a
sharp increase in the proportion of women going into grad schools,
from 10.5 percent of doctoral recipients in 1970 to 45 percent in
2000. As women remained in school longer, it became more common for
them to marry and have children while still enrolled. Trying to
balance education and family has led to higher drop-out rates for
female grad students, which is just the earliest phase in the "leaky
pipeline" of academic career trajectories, where women with children
are 24 percent less likely to obtain tenure than men in the sciences
and 20 percent less likely in the humanities.

Kuperberg notes that the increasing presence of women in graduate
school over the last 40 years has led to a shift in the gender power
balance. Early "pioneers" needed to show they could "make it" in a
career that paid little notice to family and that demanded they not
draw attention to gender matters like pregnancy and childcare, which
might jeopardize success. Many of these postponed or gave up becoming
mothers. As more women entered the pipeline of graduate schools, they
were less willing to sacrifice family and used their increasing power
within the institution to change the male-dominated culture in order
to balance career and family.

"My most important finding is that, as the percentage of female
graduate students has increased while fertility rates have remained
stable or increased, the number of students who are pregnant or have
young children while in graduate school has increased drastically over
the past 40 years," says Kuperberg. "The second important point is
that over time, at least in terms of their fertility behavior, women
in graduate school are becoming more and more like other female
college grads that are not enrolled in school." Many of these college
graduates enter the workforce (while their classmates enter grad
school) and are likely covered by the Family Medical Leave Act, which
grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Kuperberg's web
search of the nation's top-20 graduate programs revealed that only 13
had a maternity-leave policy—one-third gave six weeks leave, another
third gave eight weeks and the last third gave 12 or more. Most of
these programs were established in the last four years.

"Graduate schools will need to establish or improve maternity leave
and childcare options for their students in order to retain their
female students who wish to become mothers, and to remain competitive
with the corporate world," Kuperberg advises. "Maternity leave and
childcare options give recourse to graduate-student mothers who
otherwise would have to negotiate the terms of any leave on their own.
Having a more family-friendly institution will help to retain female
students and will make a work-life balance easier for them."

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