Parenthood in Academia: What Happens When There Is No Policy?

By Hill, Melanie Sue; Nash, Alison et al. | Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Parenthood in Academia: What Happens When There Is No Policy?


Hill, Melanie Sue, Nash, Alison, Citera, Maryalice, Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies


Abstract: In 2001 the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) declared that "the development and implementation of institutional policies that enable the healthy integration of work responsibilities with family life in academe requires renewed attention." In the current study, we explore the perceptions and experiences of faculty at a university system that does not have formal work/family policies. Our findings demonstrate that with no formal policy, academic and professional faculty are left confused (and often misguided) about what options are available for parental leave.

Women now make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, a dramatic shift from a generation ago when only one-third of all workers were women (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). Mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families in the U.S. (Boushey, 2009; Galinsky, Aumann & Bond, 2008) and 70% of families with children include a working mother (Galinsky, Aumann & Bond, 2008). These statistics have prompted many to reflect on that status of women in the workplace, asking questions such as "how far have we come?" and "has equality been achieved?" With more than half of children in the U.S. born into homes with two working parents, work/family balance is no longer just a "woman's issue" but has become a family issue. Upon close evaluation, we continue to find that many of our work/family policies remain based on the "traditional" family with a male breadwinner and a stay-at-home mom - a clearly outdated model. For example, only 10% of all employees have access to employer-supported childcare (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Quality of Life Benefits"; March 2009). Most notably, the United States is the only industrialized nation without a national government-sponsored paid family leave policy.

Without a national policy, only 9% of U.S. civilian workers have access to paid family leave (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Employee Benefits in the United States", March 2009). In 1993 The Family and Medical Leave Act was signed into law. The FMLA, entitles workers (men and women) to up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. While the passage of the FMLA was a step in the right direction, approximately half of all workers are not covered by FMLA because they haven't worked for their employer for a year, work for a company with fewer than 50 employees, or haven't worked enough hours to qualify for coverage (Waldfogel, 2001). Additionally, only 58% of qualified employees know of the FMLA (Commission on Family and Medical Leave, 1996). Moreover, many workers cannot afford to take an unpaid leave. Women still make roughly 79 cents for every dollar men make, even in female dominated jobs (Institute for Women's Policy Research, Fact Sheet, April 2009). For the nearly two-thirds of families in the U.S. where women are the primary or co-breadwinners, taking unpaid leave is often not a feasible option (Boushey, 2009; Galinsky, Aumann & Bond, 2008).

Despite the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) declaration in 2001 that "the development and implementation of institutional policies that enable the healthy integration of work responsibilities with family life in academe requires renewed attention," faculty and staff at numerous college campuses across the United States have continued to struggle to secure compassionate work/family policies. In a survey of 255 college campuses, Hollenshead et al. (2005) found on average only 25% of the schools provided women with paid maternity leave following the birth of a child that did not require women to use up their sick leave, disability leave, or vacation leave. Only 16% reported having a formal institution-wide policy for paid dependent care leave (most often for both men and women).

One thing that is consistent throughout the research is the need for universal, clear parental leave policies. Parental leave has not only been associated with greater infant health (breast-feeding, wellvisits, immunizations; Berger, Hill, & Waldfogel, 2005) and children's later cognitive development (Ruhm, 2004), but also with parental well-being (Hyde, 1995).

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