Gender-Neutral Labor Policies Benefit Men, Study Says

(Photo: Youtube, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Youtube, Creative Commons)

The Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), an international research center based in Bonn, Germany, has released a report titled “Equal but Inequitable: Who Benefits from Gender-Neutral Tenure Clock Stopping Policies?” that looks to shed light on the effects of gender neutral policies on professorial tenure.

The report begins by stating that many skilled professional occupations are characterized by intensive skill accumulation and career establishment. Young professionals – and future career leaders – often begin working as law firm associates, surgical residents, and untenured faculty at universities. These positions face high female exit rates, generally blamed on childbearing and childrearing. Thus, after an exodus of young female professionals, these fields tend to be dominated disproportionately by males later in their careers.

In some professions, gender-neutral family policies have been adopted to “level the playing field.” The gender-neutral “tenure clock stopping” policies attempt to reduce the gender gap in higher education, but to date, there exists no empirical evidence that shows that these policies help women. The report released by the Institute for the Study of Labor fills that gap by demonstrating that gender-neutral tenure clock stopping policies actually have reduced female tenure rates while substantially increasing male tenure rates.

Despite the fact that women earn the majority of post-baccalaureate degrees, they are underrepresented in medicine, law, and academia, and they become more underrepresented as they age. This gender gap is particularly marked among top-earners in these respective fields. Family-friendly policies attempt to mitigate these discrepancies, but women often choose not to take full advantage of them because of high wage penalties, concerns of being overworked, and a perception that they will be viewed as less committed by their colleagues and managers.

Thus, gender-neutral policies, while intending to benefit women, give men a further advantage in professional fields. Many high-skill occupations feature a very limited window of opportunity for advancement, which, if missed, dematerializes within the first decade of such a career. This phenomenon is known as an “up-or-out” work environment. Young women who use family-leave policies often miss these critical times that assure career advancement; once they return, there is no way for them to make up the ground that they lost.

To counteract this, universities have adopted tenure clock stopping policies. These policies allow assistant professors to stop their tenure clock for an extended period of time, typically one year, after childbirth or adoption to begin raising a family and continue on a path toward tenure uninterrupted. However, gender-neutral tenure clock stopping policies may not level the playing field in terms of tenure outcomes if the average productivity during the period of the stopped clock differs between men and women.

The report finds that men are able to use additional time more productively or more strategically, thus these policies actually increase the gender gaps in academia. The probability that a man gets tenure in his first job rises by 19 percentage points after taking advantage of such a policy, while the female probability for promotion falls by 22 percentage points. The researchers show that these policies help men, hurt women, and substantially increase the gender gap in tenure rates.

For interested readers, the full report is available online.