The Price of Parenting in STEM: Explaining Career Paths and Pay Consequences of Parenthood among Science and Engineering Professionals


Principle Investigators: Erin A. Cech (University of Michigan); Co-PI: Mary Blair-Loy (UC San Diego)

Funder: National Science Foundation

Grant: $396,639

Summary: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are culturally and demographically male-dominated.  Over the past two decades, social science research has shown that girls and women encounter barriers in STEM education and then face additional obstacles entering and advancing in STEM careers.  Yet, the effects of motherhood and fatherhood on the careers of STEM professionals are not well understood.  Does parenting--especially motherhood--incur penalties in STEM in terms of retention, advancement, and salary?

Starting from the sociological theoretical perspective that socially structured life courses move through gendered institutions, we analyze how parenthood shapes career trajectories, retention, and salaries for women and men in STEM fields.  The proposed empirical research project is the first of its kind to use representative, longitudinal data to analyze these parenthood effects among STEM professionals. We also examine how these parenthood effects differ by race/ethnicity, education level, sector (e.g., industry vs. academia), and field (e.g., biology, mechanical engineering).  Such research is imperative for our ability to build theory about how gender impacts participation across all career stages and to develop interventions that improve women's long-term persistence and success in STEM.

Our analysis uses nationally representative, longitudinal, restricted-use data of STEM professionals from NCSES' SESTAT integrated data system to examine the effects of parenthood on career paths and pay.  Our sample (N=17,599) includes STEM professionals employed full-time in 2003 and followed through 2010.  Both the PI and Co-PI have secured restricted-use data licenses.

This project will address three sets of research questions: 
(1)  Who leaves full-time STEM employment after becoming a parent?  Where do they go?  How do these parenthood effects vary by gender, race/ethnicity, education level, sector, and STEM field?
(2) Is the cost in lost income of making a career change higher if respondents made the change for family reasons compared to other reasons?  Is this cost disproportionately higher for mothers?
(3) Among workers who remain in full-time STEM careers, how do gender, parenthood, education level, and race/ethnicity affect salary?