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Research Versus Family - Young scientists who have fewer children than desired are considering leaving the science profession entirely
08/22/2011 Bow Young Kim
Almost half of female researchers and a quarter of male researchers at top research universities say that they have had fewer children than they wanted because of their scientific careers, according to new research published by sociologists from Rice University and Southern Methodist University (SMU). As a result, young scientists of both sexes who feel this way are more likely to consider professions other than science.
“When we find that young scientists are considering leaving because of family factors, we then need to think about this more carefully, if we want more research scientists at high level universities,” said study author Elaine H. Ecklund of Rice.
In their study, Ecklund and Anne E. Lincoln of SMU surveyed 3455 faculty members, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows from Ph.D. programs from over 30 U.S. universities about the overall life satisfaction of scientists balancing career aspirations and family duties.
According to the results, 45.4% of surveyed women and 24.5% of surveyed men reported that having less children than they wanted negatively affected their life satisfaction. Overall, about 17% of both men and women reported being dissatisfied in their lives outside of their science career. Interestingly, the survey suggests that the career versus family life struggle has a greater impact on male satisfaction than that of female scientists.
“That was a little bit surprising to us, and we are following up to find out why,” said Ecklund. “We’re actually doing a follow-up study looking at those who indeed left, so that’s a new research study that we’re involved in right now.”
Because of concerns over the ability to maintain both a fulfilling family life and a scientific career, about 25% of young scientists surveyed have considered leaving the profession. To combat this trend, universities have developed programs, such as on-site daycare and mentoring programs, to help scientists find balance in their lives. On a larger scale, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health both have programs designed to support researchers with families, mostly targeted towards female scientists.
“Our research shows that both men and women should probably be included in these kinds of programs. Although it is wise to spend more efforts on women, men should be taken into account as well,” said Ecklund.
The paper, “Scientists want more children,” was published 5 August 2011 at PLoS One.