Is motherhood the biggest reason for academia’s gender imbalance?



Cornell psychologists Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams with two of their three daughters

A new paper by two developmental psychologists on the dearth of women in academic science argues that the cause of the gender imbalance is much easier to identify than most researchers have posited. The solution is also more obvious, they say, although that doesn't mean it will be easy to implement (see sidebar). Not surprisingly, their provocative assertions, in a paper titled “When Scientists Choose Motherhood,” have stirred the pot in an already contentious field.

Writing in the March/April issue of American Scientist, Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci of Cornell University argue that the traditional view of female underrepresentation as a complex mixture of discrimination, differential abilities, and career preferences misses the mark. Instead, say the husband-and-wife team, the evidence from studies stretching back more than a decade points overwhelmingly to the primacy of “the dynamics of family formation in Western society,” or, in a word, motherhood. Read the full story