Women with Children in Science / Engineering Fields Term Paper

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¶ … children is a disadvantage/advantage for women who want to have a career in science or engineering by comparing with the women who have not the children

Having children is a disadvantage/advantage for women who want to have a career in science or engineering when compared with women who do not have children

This paper explores the gender differences and disparities in the science and engineering fields. It was found that women with children are at a disadvantage when it comes to advancement and achievements in the sciences. This is largely due to social perceptions and expectations which prejudice the working mother. It was also found that, while there are other factors that are a cause of this disparity, women with children are generality more disadvantaged in the sciences compared to women who do not have children. While there are many advantages to having children outside of the professional and academic world, such as a more balanced and healthy lifestyle, yet in terms of advancement in the profession, children are often seen as a disadvantageous factor. This situation is however changing with changing views about the roles of men and women in society.

2. Introduction

The question of gender disparity and inequality in the workplace is one which has created a larger amount of contemporary debate. The question of gender marginalization in generally male dominated sectors such as science, technology and engineering has been a particular focus of this debate. There are many reasons given for the fact that so few women succeed or advance in the sciences and engineering fields. These reasons include the fact that these disciples are traditionally a male enclave and women are often perceived as not being as capable as men in this area.

While this view has largely been revealed as a false prejudice, one of the central factors that prevent women from more extensive participation in the science and engineering is that they are traditionally and conventionally seen as being mainly responsible for childcare and child rearing. This refers to another social perception that women and not men should be responsible for the children and leads to various assumptions that women do not have the time to deal with the demands and pressure of the scientific world. The fact that a woman has children therefore has become a central and important variable in the debate about gender inequality in the scientific and other fields. This paper will explore some of the facts relating to this debate.

Female advancement and children

In her book "The Science Glass Ceiling" (Routledge, March 2004), Sue V. Rosser, Dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at the Georgia Institute of Technology, outlines some of the obstacles which "...prevent women engineers and scientists from advancing at educational institutions and cause them to be underrepresented among faculty."(Gender barriers: New book looks at roadblocks impeding women scientists and engineers) This study asserts that while there have been improvements in the number of women who are graduating at universities in the fields of science and engineering, yet this rate is still extremely low in comparison to men. In fact, only 19.5% of science and engineering faculty at four-year colleges and universities are women, with 10.4% being full professors, according to a 2000 National Science Foundation (NSF) study. At large research institutions, the percentages are even smaller." (Gender barriers: New book looks at roadblocks impeding women scientists and engineers)

This is a view that is presented time and again in numerous research studies. One of the central reasons given for this low rate is the problem of balancing family and work. "Seventy-five percent of CBL respondents cited "balancing family and work" as their No. 1 problem." (Becker T.J.) This relates to the fact that, "A practical reality of biochemistry is that, to be highly successful, the scientist must inevitably spend long hours in the lab. This is particularly difficult for women who are trying to juggle small children with work." (Becker T.J.)

These views are borne out in numerous studies and statistics. The following breakdown by gender of the number of men and women in the Science faculty at MIT underscores the severe disparities in the sciences.

Figure 1. Number of Men and Women Faculty in Science at MIT in 1994 and 1999

Men

Women

Source: (http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html)

The data in terms of the number of women who received PhD's in science is also alarming. For example, from the period 1983 to 1999, 6343 women receive PhDs in Chemistry, compared to 18362 men. This is an average of 26% compared to 74%. (Nelson D. 2001)

There are numerous other studies which substantiate these figures. For example, "Among Association of American Universities research institutions, approximately nine out of ten department chairs in engineering, mathematics, and physical sciences are men." And "Compared to the number of women who are eligible for department chair positions (i.e., full professors), women scientists are underrepresented..." (Hosek, et al.)

4. Analysis

There may of course be other reasons for the disparities in the gender differences, but a central reason that is mentioned in many studies is that in terms of advancement in these fields, having children is generally seen as a disadvantage. As one study states: "Marriage and children are generally viewed by male faculty members as impediments to a scientific career for women." (Etzkowitz H. 1994)

This also refers to the social norms and values which supports the view that a woman should put her family ahead of her career.

In general it was also found that many studies showed that women without children fared better and attained greater advancement in their careers than women who had children, especially in their early professional careers." Women who achieve tenure are less likely to have children than are men who achieve tenure, across all disciplines. Among women and men who have children early in their academic careers, men are far more successful at earning tenure than are women." (Mason, M.A., and Goulden, M. 2002)

The fact that women with children are at a disadvantage in the scientific world is underscored in The Price of Motherhood, by Ann Crittenden in which she points out that "...at MIT, only seven of sixteen tenured women professors had children in 2000, suggesting that most women scientists who have children do not make it that far." (Mason, M.A., and Goulden, M. 2002)

This pattern also applies to women in science who have 'early babies'. This refers to a baby who is born in the early years of academic advancement. In this regard it was found that, "In the sciences and engineering, among those working in academia, men who have early babies are strikingly more successful in earning tenure than women who have early babies...." (Mason, M.A., and Goulden, M. 2002) Another study reiterates this view that it is disadvantageous for women to have children in the sciences. "Only half of the women faculty in the School of Engineering has children, while well over three-quarters of the men do." (Comments for the MIT Faculty Newsletter on the Women's Report) This also implies that there is gender prejudice and preference as well. Furthermore, in a study by Bailyn and Etzion entitled Experiencing Technical Work: A Comparison of Male and Female Engineers, it was found that in the sciences "More of the women are single than married; the majority of those who are married do not have children." (Bailyn L. And Etzion D)

On the other hand it has also been realized that there are advantages to child rearing for both genders. Among these is the fact that it leads to a more balanced and healthy lifestyle, which may in fact improve scientific pursuits. This can be seen in a female scientist's view of those professional women who are not married and do not have children.

The single people in my department work strange hours, take out personal ads, hope to make connections at conferences or around town, and wonder if in the end it will be worth all the work they put into getting the degree, given the sacrifices they may end up making. There's a fear that they--we -- will end up alone, which isn't fun no matter how successful you are in your career (DeWhyse M.P. 2004)

Therefore, while there are advantages to having children these are essentially psychological and personal and have little to so with actual advancement in the sciences per se.

5. Conclusion

The above statistics and studies point to the conclusion that in the sciences and engineering, job placement and advancement as well as academic achievement are disadvantaged by having children. It is clear that those women who do not have children are more likely than those who do to excel. This is a fact that is also linked to social norms and values which are changing. The view that women should be the primary caregiver in the home is an outmoded view which is being replaced by a view that places the responsibility of child rearing equally on both… [END OF PREVIEW]

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