- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Feminists advocate equitable parental leave in order to level the professional playing field between men and women, but a new study indicates gender-neutral policies have given male professors a leg up on their female colleagues.

The Institute for the Study of Labor report published earlier this year found male assistant professors who took parental leave were 19 percent more likely to earn tenure, while female assistant professors who took time off were 22 percent less likely to reach the milestone.

The researchers said “there is no empirical evidence showing that these policies help women.”

The 20-year study followed around 1,300 assistant professors from the top 49 economics departments in the nation, most of which have clock-stopping policies in place intended to give new parents an extra year for childcare before tenure decisions are reached.

Male professors who took parental leave were much more likely than women to subsequently publish in the top-five economics journals — an important criterion in tenure decisions.

Men are apparently using their time off in order to pursue these prestigious journals, which have high rejection rates and can be a professional risk, while women are using parental leave for its intended purpose.

“Consistent with women having higher fertility costs, the results … suggest that women are less able to use the additional time strategically or effectively,” the study said.

Despite egalitarian attitudes toward parenting in predominantly progressive academia, other studies also indicate men are much more likely than women to use parental leave for professional gain, rather than to care for newborns.

A 2012 study by University of Virginia political scientist Steven E. Rhoads found a majority of male professors believe parenting should be shared equally between the sexes.

Despite their intellectual commitment to equity in parenting, men were far less likely to take time off when they had children. And when men did take advantage of paternity leave, they used a majority of their time on tasks other than infant care, such as publishing, while women performed most of the childcare duties.

“In this area, refusal to take sex differences seriously, rather than helping women, leads to a policy that could injure females seeking tenure by giving their male counterparts an unfair advantage,” the study said. “If men should begin to take leave in much larger numbers, far from leveling the playing field, gender-neutral post-birth leaves are likely to tilt the field further in favor of men.”

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