Yesterday Inside Higher Ed published an article on “New Questions on Women, Academe, and Careers.” Go check it out–there’s something for everyone there. I have two questions: first of all, what’s with the hostile sub-literates commenting there? Posts about gender equity always bring out the trolls at IHE, but some of those comments were especially stupid and pointless. But on to my main question, which is: Why are women academics so willing to chuck it all in after having even only one child (let alone more children) when they work in such a “family friendly” occupation? Here’s a table summarizing the results of a study called “Harvard and Beyond Project” by Harvard economists Claudia Golden and Lawrence Katz, which “tracks what happens to three cohorts of graduates of the university — those who graduated around 1970, 1980 and 1990-15 years after they received their bachelor’s degrees.” Lo, the results:
Percentage of ‘Harvard and Beyond’ Women Employed Full Time 15 Years After Graduation
|Advanced Degree Earned||No Children||1 Child||2 or More Children|
|M.D., D.D.S., D.V.M||92.7%||80.5%||60.4%|
This supports what I’ve noticed anecdotally with women M.D.s: they have more kids by comparison to women with Ph.D.s, and they work. Man do they work–they see patients four days a week, and then they’re on call usually one day a week plus one weekend a month, on average in private practice. My women friends with M.D.s have three, and even four kids, and they have built successful and extremely busy private practices in pediatrics and OB/GYN. How can this be, when academia is legendarily “more flexible” and “more family friendly”–you know, once we’re done with our second or third (or fourth!) class of the day, we can be home to meet the school bus, right? (And have crackers and peanut butter with the kids while they watch Dragon Tales. Right?)
Yeah, right. Although our hours from day-to-day may be more flexible (I feel so flexible about setting my alarm for 4 a.m. so that I can finish the reading for my graduate seminar, really I do!), what’s not flexible is where we work, women and men alike. Many of us end up at universities in small and rural towns we didn’t even know existed when we were in graduate school, and that’s only after years of searching for a permanent position. We also have fewer job opportunities than other professionals, so unless you take that offer to move to Laramie, Wyoming to teach continental philosophy, well–I hope you’re happy adjuncting.
Physicians, especially primary care docs, on the other hand are different from most academics, and these differences, plus some advantages in their lines of work, make all the difference:
- They tend to be more traditional in their vision for their lives, in that most of them want marriage and children. (There are very few really hippie-groovy physicians–whereas the academics I know, myself included, weren’t necessarily set on one particular vision of family or love relationship in our early 20s.)
- (Maybe what I mean here is that they have better planning and execution skills?)
- They have lots of job opportunities, especially if they’re in primary care and open to leaving the big cities where they trained. (Some cities and metro areas are choked with primary care docs, but that just means that they may have to work for less money, not that they won’t be able to find work.)
- They make lots of money compared to academics, and so can pay for full-time nannies and other high-quality, in-home care. The docs I know make between $200,000 and $400,000, which beats the hell out of what I make. As Liz Phair sang in a song way back in the 90s: “you have got to have $hitloads of money.”
- They are trained to work hard. Medical school, and then a 3- to 6-year residency weeds out the weak like you wouldn’t believe. The docs I know make good money, but they’re incredibly hard workers and they serve their patients well.
- (Only point 5 applies for people in academic medicine, which from what I’ve heard anecdotally, is just as competitive and cutthroat as academia in general, if not moreso. Academic medicine is all of the hassle, for much, much less of the money–on top of truly brutal student loan debt, compared to most humanities Ph.D.s I know.)
All of you parents out there, get your daughters into math camp and science enrichment programs. Teach them to love something other than the humanities–which are great, but let’s face it: they don’t exactly pay the bills. Point out that physicians get to use much cooler equipment and tools than comparative lit profs. Buy them anatomy textbooks and models of human skeletons to hang in their bedrooms. Tell them that 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 3-6 years of residency will go by really fast. Trust me, they will. And pretty soon one day, you’ll look at your little girl, and you’ll see the busiest pediatric nephrologist in the region, or the most popular pediatrician in her practice, or the go-to dermatologist in town. And won’t that be a proud day?