Women in Science. Lessons from the Baby Boom
61 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2021 Last revised: 1 Feb 2023
Date Written: October 2021
How do children affect women in science? We investigate this question using rich biographical data, linked with patents and publications, for 83,000 American scientists in 1956 at the height of the baby boom. Our analyses reveal a unique life-cycle pattern of productivity for mothers. While other scientists peak in their mid-thirties, mothers become more productive after age 35 and maintain high productivity in their 40s and 50s. Event studies show that the output of mothers increases after 15 years of marriage, while other scientists peak in the first 10 years. Differences in the timing of productivity have important implications for tenure and participation. Just 27% of mothers who are academic scientists get tenure, compared with 48% of fathers and 46% of women without children. Mothers face comparable tenure rates to other assistant professors for the first six years but fall behind afterwards, suggesting that they face higher standards of early productivity. Mothers who survive in science are extremely positively selected: Compared with other married women, mothers patent (publish) 2.5 (1.4) times more before the median age at marriage. Compared with men, female scientists are more educated, half as likely to marry, one-third as likely to have children, but half as likely to survive in science. Employment records indicate that a generation of baby boom mothers was lost to science.
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