More on tenure and toddlers

by Chris Bertram on November 25, 2003

Kieran’s post immediately below focuses on the different pressures on men and women in academia. That difference is certainly there, but the extraordinary thing is that changes in academia over the past thirty years have exacerbated the pressures at the same time as universities have become more verbally supportive of gender equality, have implemented “family friendly” and “work—life balance” policies, and so on.

Why? It isn’t hard simply to do some sums. Here’s a typical career path in philosophy in the UK, circa 1960:

Take first degree (BA, say in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford) graduating at age 21.
Take a two-year postrgraduate degree such as the Oxford B.Phil or the London M.Phil, finishing at age 23.
Get a permanent academic job on a salary that enables you to live in a good part of town and support a family at age 23—4.

Wind forward to say, 1990, when there are far fewer jobs because the higher education expansion is over, but lots of people chasing them.

Take first degree (BA, say in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford) graduating at age 21.
Take a one or two year postgraduate degree (now insisted upon by funding bodies as a condition of admission to PhD programmes, finishing at age 23.
The PhD has now become essential to those wanting an academic career, so enter a PhD programme for a minimum of three, but up to five years. Finish at age 26—8.
Spend three years in temporary teaching positions and, at the same time, try to get enough published so hiring committees will even look at you. (Age 29—31)
If you are very lucky, get hired to a permanent position (but perhaps with a three year probationary period).

But your problems aren’t over. Your academic starting salary hasn’t kept pace with other professions. If you want to get promoted, get a good reputation, be valued by your colleagues then you’ll need a healthy research output including several papers and/or a book. Unpromoted, you don’t earn enough to start a family anyway, and you are living in cramped conditions in a bad part of town. So add another five years to give us age 34—36.

Obviously we can add further years here and there for various reasons, and also mention the fact that the pressure to perform, to publish, to compete is intense even for those who have secured permanent jobs and an initial promotion. But in about 30 years in the history of academic life a 13 year gap has opened up! A woman of 23 will find it much easier to conceive than one of 36 and will probably contemplate more than one child. But for academics of either gender having a family is a much more daunting and potentially career-damaging prospect than it used to be.

{ 18 comments }

1

carpeicthus 11.25.03 at 8:25 am

And that, more than anything else, is why I’m looking into teaching high school.

2

David Tiley 11.25.03 at 11:55 am

Let us take upon our round shoulders for a moment the mantle of yer average dragknuckle right winger.

Imagine that we believe that intelligence and general superiority is inherited. Stands to reason, what?

Acknowledge that a good many useful professions, such as academia, the arts, government work, science research and maybe even schoolteaching, do not pay enough money to support a family.

Then you have to include that the stupid will steadily overwhelm us all, as the Good People fail to breed. And of course all those civilised households of learning friendly adults are not passing on their quaint habits of reading and discussion.

Then the bloody hoi polloi will rule, right? And they’re probably not even proper white people.. and certainly not pukka.

Of course it is not true – ability is more complex than that, and smart people can be recruited from a wider social group. But it is true that we will see a steady decrease in second generation ideas workers – and that’s probably not such a good idea.

And let’s face it – we already know from the experience of our various communities that being an ideas worker for many people does preclude children (unless ones partner is contributing heaps or someone’s forebears are rich)..

And that just fills me with terrible sadness.

3

Paul 11.25.03 at 1:38 pm

“Imagine that we believe that intelligence and general superiority is inherited. Stands to reason, what?”

No, it doesn’t, and thank God, because if your argument was true democracy would be a fraud.

See: Gould, S. J., “The Mismeasure of Man.”

4

Mike 11.25.03 at 2:25 pm

““Imagine that we believe that intelligence and general superiority is inherited. Stands to reason, what?””

“No, it doesn’t, and thank God, because if your argument was true democracy would be a fraud.

See: Gould, S. J., “The Mismeasure of Man.””

Gould wrote books about many topics, and even knew a great deal about some of them, but “The Mismeasure of Man” is not one of those books. His expertise no more qualified him to write with authority on the heritability of intelligence than it did on string theory or linguistic analysis.

A substantial part of intelligence is heritable, but regression toward the mean prevails over time; biology is no threat to democracy.

5

William 11.25.03 at 4:13 pm

Are there actually fewer philosophy jobs in 1990 than in 1960? (I tried to use the Internet to answer this question, but it let me down). Or is it just that there was an unprecedented expansion ongoing in 1960, so that the ratio of open jobs to people applying for them was historically high because the number of graduates hadn’t yet caught up with the number of jobs? If that’s the case, how would it look if you compared to, say, 1930? (1940 doesn’t count, there was a war on, and 1950 doesn’t count because there was a glut of ex-army students still working its way through the system).

6

William 11.25.03 at 5:23 pm

Er, not sure what my point is in the previous comment, other than to snark at a bit of the post that I thought was sloppily written. I’m certainly not denying that things have changed — it’s the same in the sciences — and I appreciate that the original post wasn’t necessarily about the underlying cause of those changes.

7

chun the unavoidable 11.25.03 at 5:52 pm

Mike,

I know who Gould was, what he wrote, and his fields of expertise. I’ve also read The Mismeasure of Man.

My question to you is, why do you feel that any reader of this blog is going to be persuaded by an authoritative stating of your opinion on this issue? Were you thinking to yourself, “this zinger will show the late Gould and his misguided followers how wrong they are, once and for all?”

One of the things I enjoy about scientists is how, in general, they avoid stupid varieties of credentialism: “this professor may be brilliant in linguistics, but he obviously knows nothing of the received findings in political science,” etc.

8

Eric 11.25.03 at 6:09 pm

Chun, I doubt this will convince you, but, sadly, The Mismeasure of Man is one of Gould’s worst books. It’s filled with straw-man arguments, ignores the existing evidence, and picks & chooses who he will argue against. For example, Gould omits any mention of the eugenicists of the left, such as Margaret Sanger.

I would recommend Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate instead.

9

chun the unavoidable 11.25.03 at 6:14 pm

Because that book shows a nuanced consideration of sources and general scholarly balance, eh?

Have you ever noticed the type of people who join Mensa? I think there’s a similar phenomenon at work with EP enthusiasts, though the overlap is difficult to untangle.

10

loren 11.25.03 at 8:26 pm

not to get all “Alan Bloom”-ish, but it saddens me that, in philosophy departments, of all places, we find the same constraints as elsewhere on women and men who want a realistic shot at balancing childraising with a meaningful academic career (so I say, typing onehanded with a wriggling monsterlet trying to escape my cluches, and a long-neglected article in another window on the screen). If anyone could tell us how to live a worthwhile life, rich and satisfying in every possible respect, it would be philosophers, no? We love wisdom, after all, and strive to live examined lives. But these days we don’t turn to philosophers and their recent writings to learn about the care of the soul. Instead we read about supervenience or whether a sufficiency criterion constrains the feasibility of a just saving principle. Interesting stuff, to be sure, but when we read these articles they aren’t often from people with kids _and_ a life partner who is also in academia. My wife and I are trying to figure out a way for both of us to have meaningful academic work and a home worth living in, but it does sadden me that institutionalized philosophy (as opposed to institutionalized philosophers!) doesn’t help me in these efforts more or less than any other official scholarly community. So much for a philosophy of life.

ooo! the little guy looks tired — might be nap time = an hour of writing and course prep. Or laundry.

11

Anthony 11.25.03 at 11:36 pm

There are plenty of smart people who stay the hell away from academic careers, and plenty of smart people whose careers aren’t those of symbol manipulators. So long as the business schools and engineering schools actually teach skills useful to success in business and engineering careers, there will be plenty of smart people in careers that enable them to raise families.

12

David Tiley 11.26.03 at 4:38 am

Aside from my jokey start about knuckle dragging and inheritance – which led to what I thought was an interesting skirmish about Gould (cos I think the book is defensible in some places) – I wanted to add to Anthony’s remark.

A huge part of the underlying problem, at least here in Australia, is about sustaining a balanced humanistic society. Smart engineers don’t learn history; clever technocrats are monolingual. Professional life involves engagement with public debate. Builders on the plains of heaven need philosophers, as Loren so poignantly shows.

Technocrats who work here are just as miffed as liberal arts people – we just worship sports. Undervalued is underpaid and it shows in family formation.

13

A Crawford 11.26.03 at 4:59 am

Here’s an interesting take on this subject from Max Weber (“Science as a Vocation”) 1918/1919.

http://www2.pfeiffer.edu/~lridener/DSS/Weber/scivoc.html

Here’s an additional link related to the question of academic certification and
“Appeals to Authority” (argumentum ad verecundiam).

http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/aa.htm

14

Thomas 11.26.03 at 5:45 pm

David–

This is just anecdotal, but here’s my experience: I’m a US lawyer with lots of lawyer friends. All of them have good salaries–in some cases, exceptionally good. A surprising number do not plan on having any children. Those who do plan on having children–still a majority, if only slight–plan to have only one or, at most, two.

Those who have the highest salaries tend to be those who do not plan any children.

Perhaps there’s something in the water? The fancy sparkling bottled water…

15

Fred 11.26.03 at 6:02 pm

“A huge part of the underlying problem, at least here in Australia, is about sustaining a balanced humanistic society. Smart engineers don’t learn history; clever technocrats are monolingual. “

Directly contradicted by fact and experience.

Some don’t, others take longer to get there. But my experience is that MANY have interests that they persue quite far, unlike say the number of liberal arts grads I know who have learnt bugger all about things technical.

16

David Tiley 11.27.03 at 2:42 am

We need Thomas to have lots of babies to get over being dispirited.

And Fred, this is the broadest level of generalisation, of course – and you are absolutely right about the antitechnocrats in my liberal arts mob although they take to computer applications like demons. I work sometimes for CSIRO (in my liberal arts capacity, tee hee..), which has a heap of very widely cultured people..

And I want the rest of your URL, if you have one.. please?

17

Rana 11.30.03 at 4:38 am

Heh. That timeline of doom fits almost perfectly with my own background. Being 33 and barely able to make the rent (disclaimer: this comes after not getting another visiting professorship this year, hence temp work) sucks enough; when I think about the implications for my reproductive and social life, it is damn depressing!

(I’d like to think that having decided to jump the academic ship — well, I was pushed, but I’m not swimming back — may allow some slack, but so far I’m not seeing it…)

18

Mike 11.30.03 at 4:37 pm

Chun dismissive reply is noteworthy for its failure to address any of criticisms of “The Mismeasure of Man.” Scientific criticism (Chun reports that he likes scientists) was widespread from the book’s publication, appearing in peer reviewed journals ranging from Science to Nature to Applied Psychological Measurement. Briefly stated, the crtitiques make several points:

1. The book’s claim that many have misused evidence of the heritability of intelligence to push racist political agendas is obviously true but just as obviously irrelevant to the question of whether a portion of intelligence is heritable.

2. The book’s claim that science is inherently biased because the work of scientists reflects “the unconscious and very personal prejudices of the scientists themselves” is a trivial observation that could as easily be directed at Gould. Writ large, it is the stuff of Stanley Aronowitz and his ilk (someone should write a book called the mismeasure of Kuhn), and it is the kind of superficial analysis that gives bullshit such a bad name.

3. Brigham and Goddard richly deserve the criticism that Gould levels, but so what; tossing aside the work of everyone for the sins of Brigham and Goddard makes about as much sense as rejecting modern astronomy because Ptolemy and Aristotle claimed the universe was geocentric.

4. Factor analysis is not evil; it is a quantitative method with limits, and its value lies in the skills of those who use it. The misuse of quantitative analysis is neither new (Mark Twain) nor unique to factor analysis.

5. Whether intelligence is a single characteristic or a set of characteristics makes for interesting arguments, but the resolution of that argument has no bearing on the underlying question of heritability.

To suggest that some component of intelligence is heritable is not to suggest that all intelligence is heritable, or that intelligence is distributed differently among identifiable groups of people; it is merely to suggest that it does not randomly emerge from the ether, like pixie dust sprinkled by fairies.

Finally, a note about scientists. Chun writes:

“One of the things I enjoy about scientists is how, in general, they avoid stupid varieties of credentialism: “this professor may be brilliant in linguistics, but he obviously knows nothing of the received findings in political science,” etc.”

The key word in that sentence is “stupid.” Credentials matter, not because they prove the worth of an idea, but because they are a useful sorting mechanism; when someone posts that he has proven Riemann’s hypothesis, or that he discovered that Einstein erred by claiming that matter cannot exceed the speed of light, I am more likely to take his claim seriously enough to read his work if he makes the claim in a peer reviewed journal rather than on the Free Republic. None of us can master every discipline; it is hard enough to keep up with our own. This blog stands out among the many because its writers have earned credentials and produce work worthy of those credentials. That is why my bookmarks include Timber but not the Free Republic. But if someone publishes the proof of Riemann’s hypothesis on the Free Republic and the proof stands up to analysis, I will take it just as seriously as if it had been published in a refereed journal.

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