August 12, 2013
You’re at work, typing away at an important memo or filling in the last cell of a spreadsheet when your phone rings. Answering it, the voice on the other line tells you that your seven-year-old son has fallen ill and needs to be picked up from school. It’s a familiar balancing act for working parents, being able to compartmentalize work and family life, and everyone experiences spill-over, from a child calling sick during work to a work project preoccupying some weekend time. But not everyone experiences it the same way, a new study shows. If you’re a man, getting that call from a school won’t necessarily derail your workday. If you’re a woman, however, family-life spilling over into work-life–or vice versa–can truly ruin your day.
Women have long been told that having it all–the dream job and the idyllic family life–is hard; maternal instincts coupled with traditional gender roles that require women to excel in both home life and work life push females to the brink of what’s humanly possible. But science now shows that it’s more than hard, it’s emotionally and psychologically damaging. The study, led by Professor Shira Offer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, suggests that though women and men spend the same amount of time worrying about family matters, women feel a disproportional amount negative emotional affects–stress, depression, and the like–from this mental labor.
The finding, presented yesterday at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, looked at the work and family experiences of middle-class dual-earner families using the 500 Family Study conducted by the University of Chicago. Participants in the study–parents in 500 families across the U.S. with children of all ages–recorded responses to various questions, for example about work, child care, free time, division of responsibilities, etc. Subjects responded in two ways: first, they filled out a survey, and second, they participated in an experience sampling method (ESM), a unique kind of “time-diary” that allowed respondents to record their experiences and feelings at various times throughout the day. Participants would carry a device programmed to emit an alarm at random times throughout the day, and when the alarm sounded, participants were asked to respond to various questions and evaluate their experiences. Participants that failed to respond to the ESM over 1/4 of the time were removed from the data.
Offer chose a sub-sample from the 500 Family Study that responded to both survey questions and participated in the ESM. In her research, the responses of 402 mothers and 291 fathers were analyzed. The participants, it’s important to note, represent families where both parents work, and come from eight suburban and urban areas around the United States. The families that participated in the study were predominantly non-Latino white families with highly educated parents, and the family earnings rank above the average for married parents in the United States.
She then divided respondents’ experiences into three categories of mental labor: 1) general mental labor, which includes day-to-day planning of activities such as making sure you’re not late to something 2) family-specific mental labor, which includes thoughts about family matters and 3) job-specific mental labor, which includes thinking about things relating to the participants paid job. Offer also used the ESM responses to create two categories for emotional behavior: 1) positive, meaning the emotions associated with a particular mental labor caused cheerful, relaxed, or happy feelings and 2) negative, meaning emotions associated with the mental-labor created feelings of stress or worry.
Offer found that, on average, women engage in mental labor for 1/4 of the waking hours, while men only engage in mental labor 1/5 of the time. In keeping with Offer’s expectations, the study found that men spend more time engaging in work-related mental labor, but experience much less of a spillover of these concerns into non-work domains, contrasted with women, who experience a large deal of crossover with work-related mental labor in non-work domains.
But that’s not the whole story: In a surprising twist, the study showed that men and women spend an equal amount of time engaging in family-related mental labor, meaning that men spend just as much time thinking about their family’s needs as women do. What Offer discovered, however, is that men aren’t negatively affected by this mental labor: in the emotional category, men did not report negative emotional associations with family-related mental labor. Conversely, thinking about family matters translated to significantly negative emotional responses in women. In short, women suffer more from the burden of family-related mental labor than men.
According to Offer, these findings suggest that men might be more capable of compartmentalizing their work life and family life than women. But she notes that for women in America the level of compartmentalization
that men can exhibit may not be an option. Women, according to traditional family and gender roles, are often expected to be the primary caretaker of the house, no matter how successful they might be in their careers–a study conducted by the New America Foundation states that in 70 percent dual-earner families, women are still the primary caregivers (pdf). If family matters force the women away from the workplace (for example, women are more likely to miss work because of a sick child than men) then, in order make up for the lost time at work, women are forced to spend more non-work time thinking about work-related issues. As Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, noted in an interview with PBS, “I feel guilty when my son says, ‘Mommy, put down the BlackBerry, talk to me’ and that happens far too much. I think all women feel guilty.” she explained. “I don’t know a lot of men who feel guilty for working full time, it’s expected that they’ll work full time.”
This “mommy guilt” might just be why women suffer more negative emotional responses to family-related mental labor, Offer suggests.
modern world where women increasingly need to work and in fact are the primary breadwinners, traditional roles of the mother whereby she assumes the largest burden for home care translate into women feeling stretched beyond their means. Therein lies the heart of the problem, Offer explained. “I believe that what makes this type of mental labor an overall negative and stressful experience for mothers only is that they are the ones judged and held accountable for family-related matters,” she said.
The study is one of the first to directly correlate what people think (based on survey and ESM responses) with how people feel about it. But the study isn’t foolproof or all-encompassing. In fact, it’s limited in its scope and only deals with families that tend to fit into families that exemplify the American “working parents” stereotype: white, heterosexual, highly educated and fairly wealthy, carving out a cross-section of the population that often has the most leeway in terms of work and family stress, financially and socially. Would the same results be found in same sex couples, where traditional gender roles wouldn’t be as clearly divided, or in minority couples, whose metal worries likely encompass how children will deal with racism? Would impoverished families, concerned with how to feed their children on small budgets, show the similar or different struggles between family and work stressors depending on the parent’s gender?
Answering these questions requires more research. But if this study’s findings can be broadly applied, what can be done to ease women’s mental burdens of family? Offer believes that certain policy changes at the state, federal and organizational levels–directed towards fathers–can make a huge difference. “Fathers have to be encouraged, rather than penalized, for being more active in the domestic sphere. Fathers should be able to leave work early, start work late, take time off from work, and take pauses during the work day to deal with family-related matters,” Offer explains. “I think that if fathers were able to do this without the fear of being viewed as less committed workers, they would assume greater responsibility at home, which would lead to greater gender equality.”
Given the huge stresses of child-rearing, one can’t help but ask: would gender equality in this specific case make for happier parents? Or for both parents feeling weighed down by responsibility? Give us your thoughts!
January 23, 2013
Next time you’re reading about a scientific finding and feeling a bit skeptical, you may want to take a look at the study’s authors. One simple trick could give you a hint on whether the work is fraudulent or not: check whether those authors are male or female.
According to a study published yesterday in mBio, men are significantly more likely to commit scientific misconduct—whether fabrication, falsification or plagiarism—than women. Using data from the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, this study’s authors (a group that includes two men and one women but we’re still trusting, for now) found that out of 215 life science researchers who’ve been caught misbehaving since 1994, 65 percent were male, a fraction that outweighs their overall presence in the field.
“A variety of biological, social and cultural explanations have been proposed for these differences,” said lead author Ferric Fang of the University of Washington. “But we can’t really say which of these apply to the specific problem of research misconduct.”
Fang first became interested in the topic of misconduct in 2010, when he discovered that a single researcher had published six fraudulent studies in Infection and Immunity, the journal of which he is editor-in-chief. Afterward, he teamed up with Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to begin systematically studying the issue of fraud. They’ve since found that the majority of retracted papers are due to fraud and have argued that the intensely competitive nature of academic researcher engenders abuses.
For this study, they worked with Joan Bennett of Rutgers to break down fraud in terms of gender, as well as the time in a scientist’s career when fraud is most likely. They found that men are not only more likely to lie about their findings but are disproportionately more likely to lie (as compared to women) as they ascend from student to post-doctoral researcher to senior faculty.
Of the 215 scientists found guilty, 32 percent were in faculty positions, compared to just 16 percent who were students and 25 perecent who were post-doctoral fellows. It’s often assumed that young trainees are most likely to lie, given the difficulty of climbing the academic pyramid, but this idea doesn’t jive with the actual data.
“Those numbers are very lopsided when you look at faculty. You can imagine people would take these risks when people are going up the ladder,” said Casadevall, “but once they’ve made it to the rank of ‘faculty,’ presumably the incentive to get ahead would be outweighed by the risk of losing status and employment.”
Apparently, though, rising to the status of faculty only increases the pressure to produce useful research and the temptation to engage in fraud. Another (unwelcome) possibility is that those who commit fraud are more likely to reach senior faculty positions in the first place, and many of them just get exposed later on in their careers.
Whichever the explanation, it’s clear that men do commit fraud more often than women—a finding that shouldn’t really be so surprising, since men are more likely to indulge in all sorts of wrongdoing. This trend also makes the fact that women face a systemic bias in breaking into science all the more frustrating.
December 28, 2012
The year is almost over and media outlets across the country are reflecting on the news makers of the past 365 days and the celebrated and notorious who passed away in 2012. Their compilations show that a handful of late greats of space exploration will not be with us in 2013.
2012 witnessed the passing of two legends in human space exploration: Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride. Armstrong, who died on August 25 from complications following heart bypass surgery, made history when stepped off the Apollo 11 spacecraft and onto lunar soil on June 29, 1960. The commander of the mission, Armstrong and his “small step for man” but “giant leap for mankind” inspired a nation slogging through the Cold War–millions of people turned on the TV to watch his moonwalk live and to witness what humanity can accomplish with dedicated investment in science. Armstrong has been the subject of several books, the namesake of elementary schools, and the inspiration for a 1969 folk song. A lunar crater near the Apollo 11 landing site is named after him, as is an asteroid. But perhaps his most lasting legacy will be his footprints on the moon, which without any weather to disturb them may last for thousands of years, giving mute encouragement to future generations that efforts to explore our solar system can meet with success.
Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died July 23 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. An astrophysicist with a doctorate degree from Stanford, Ride flew first on a Challenger mission in 1983; at 35 years old at the time of her flight, she is the youngest American to have ventured to space. When she flew in a second Challenger mission in 1984, she became the only American woman to fly into space twice. Her career made her household name and, after enduring a continual skepticism on whether a woman should be an astronaut, she became a role-model for women who sought entrance into male-dominated fields.
Six months before the space shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986, Roger Boisjoly warned that cold weather could disrupt the seals connecting the solid rocket booster together. “The result could be a catastrophe of the highest order, loss of human life,” Boisjoly, a mechanical engineer and fluid dynamicist wrote in a memo to Morton Thiokol, his employer and the manufacturer of the boosters. Later investigations showed that Boisjoly’s recommendations became mired in corporate bureaucracy. Below-freezing temperatures the night before the launch prompted Biosjoly and others to plead to their bosses that the flight be postponed. Their advice went unheeded, and 73 seconds after launch, Challenger exploded, killing all seven crew members. Boisjoly was called as a witness by a presidential commission that reviewed the disaster, but was later shunned by colleagues for being a whistle-blower. He then became an advocate for workplace ethics and was given the Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility by the AAAS. He died January 6 of cancer in his colon, kidneys, and liver.
The shuttle program itself reached the end of its lifetime in 2012. On Oct 14, Endeavour made its last trek–through the streets of Los Angeles–to its final home at the California Science Center. Atlantis was moved to the Kennedy Space Center’s tourist exhibits on November 2, and Enterprise was delivered to the U.S.S. Intrepid, docked off Manhattan’s West Side, this June. Discovery arrived at Smithsonain’s Udvar-Hazy Center on April 19.
September 24, 2012
Despite significant gains in recent years, women are still underrepresented in many areas of science. In fields like physics, engineering and computer science, just 20 percent of of students earning bachelor’s degrees are female. The White House’s Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program, among others, seeks to address this problem in part by encouraging female students to engage in science from a young age and by establishing mentoring programs among female science professionals to provide support.
But what if the underrepresentation of women in science has nothing to do with interest or professional support? What if women have a tougher time advancing in scientific careers simply because of their gender? A new study by Corinne Moss-Racusin and other Yale researchers, published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates that, at least among a sample of 127 biology, chemistry and physics professors, an unconscious gender bias pervades hiring practices and significantly impacts career advancement prospects for women.
“Our results raise the possibility that not only do such women encounter biased judgments of their competence and hireability, but [they] also receive less faculty encouragement and financial rewards than identical male counterparts,” the researchers note in the paper.
The experiment was straightforward. The researchers sent 127 science professors around the country, both male and female, the exact same application materials from a made-up undergraduate student applying for a lab manager position. For 63 of the applications, though, they wrote that the student was male, named John; for the other 64, they wrote that the student was female, named Jennifer. Every other element of the application—the resume, GPA, references and other materials—was identical. To ensure that the outcomes of the two groups of applications were comparable, the researchers matched the two groups of professors in terms of age distribution, scientific fields, proportion of each sex and tenure status.
The 127 professors were each asked to evaluate the theoretical applicant in several ways: their overall competency and hireability, the salary they would offer to the student and the degree of mentoring they felt the student deserved. The faculty were not told the purpose of the experiment, just that their feedback would be shared with the student.
The results are startling: Both male and female professors consistently regarded the female student applicant as less competent and less hireable than the otherwise identical male student. On a scale of 1 to 5, the average competency rating for the male applicant was 4.05, as compared to 3.33 for the female applicant. The average salary offered to the female was $26,507.94, while the male was offered $30,238.10. The professor’s age and sex had insignificant effects on this disparity—old and young, male and female alike tended to view the female applicants more negatively.
The researchers’ analysis revealed that the disparities in hireability and salary offered were mostly due to differences in perceived competence for the female applicant. That is, when the researchers controlled for competence—by comparing only professors’ evaluations that had provided similar ratings for competency for both applicants—the hiring gap disappeared. A root reason for why females are underrepresented in science, then, could be this bias for inexplicably viewing them as less competent, thus making it more difficult for them to get jobs.
Many will find these results especially disappointing because one might expect the participants in the experiment—the 127 science professors—to be among the most enlightened individuals in our society. They have worked with female scientists (many are, in fact, are female scientists), so it’s strange to think that they would deliberately view them as less competent.
But the researchers don’t feel that this bias is necessarily a conscious one or one that pervades the entire field of science professors. In addition to having the professors rate the imagined student, they also had them fill out the Modern Sexism Scale, a well-established test that can unveil unintentional or subtle negativity towards women (rather than an explicit hostility). Those who came into the experiment with a preexisting, unconscious bias against women were much more likely to judge the female applicants as less competent.
What does this all mean? The researchers say that addressing the problem at hand—the fact that some of the gatekeepers of science, male and female, hold a consistent bias against women—is a start. To do so, they suggest implementing transparent, objectively fair hiring and evaluations practices in academics. Simply trying to attract younger female students to science isn’t a bad thing, but if we don’t seek to make hiring practices fair, it’s just setting them up to get shut out later.
December 28, 2011
It’s that time of year when journalists and bloggers put together their reviews of the past 12 months. But the list below is unlike any other. You may have noticed that Surprising Science tends to cover science a bit differently than other blogs and publications do. Combine that with a diverse (and, of course, fabulous) readership, and you’ve got an interesting list of most-read stories for the year. (If you’re looking for a more traditional 2011 retrospective, we recommend the lists from Discover, Scientific American and Science.)
#10 Earthquake in Washington, D.C.: On August 23, the Smithsonian offices, along with a good portion of the Northeast, shook due to a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Mineral, Virginia. In a weird coincidence, I had been researching earthquakes in unexpected places when the quake took place, and so people in my office jokingly blamed me for the incident.
#9 14 Fun Facts About Chickens: Following the earthquake and Hurricane Irene, we took a break from natural disasters with weird chicken facts. My favorite? That a female bird can eject the sperm of a rooster if she decides she doesn’t want his chicks.
#8 The Science Behind the Japanese Earthquake: On the morning of March 11, we woke up to news of a powerful earthquake off the coast of Japan. That shaking, however, would soon be overshadowed by the devastating tsunami and nuclear disaster that followed.
#7 Examining Telecommuting the Scientific Way: Unfortunately this post did not have the result I’d hoped, and I’m still not allowed to telecommute. (But if anyone has been successful in using these arguments, please let us know in the comments below.)
#6 The Secret Lives of Feral Cats: After a study in which scientists tracked feral kitties, we weighed in on the question of whether it was better to trap the cats, spay/neuter them and release them back into the wild or, as some advocate, euthanize any found. The blog came down on the side of catch and release, but we discovered many readers who have a serious hatred for these felines.
#5 The Curious World of Zombie Science: We examined an interesting trend in science, the study of human zombies, including computer models of the spread of the zombie disease, potential ways zombies could be created and how math could save you from a zombie attack.
#4 The Myth of the Frozen Jeans: Levi’s and the New York Times claimed that freezing your jeans would kill the germs that make them smell. Scientists who study bacteria disagree.
#3 Five Historic Female Mathematicians You Should Know: Our list, a companion to a top ten list of historic female scientists, included the creator of the world’s first computer program and a contemporary of Albert Einstein.
#2 Life Without Left Turns: A study that found that intersections constructed to eliminate dangerous left turns were more efficient than traditional intersections added to my convictions that getting rid of left turns would be a good thing. But not all my readers agreed.
And #1 The Glow-in-The-Dark Kitty: A story about Mayo Clinic researchers who created a fluorescing cat as part of their studies on feline HIV, which they hope would lead to insight on human HIV and AIDS, sparked a debate in the comments about the ethics of the research.