Time-recognition for having a baby by the ERC

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 5, 2014

In many European Countries (fn1), scholars applying for research grants with the National Research Councils can indicate that they had a child, and get additional ‘time recognition’. Many grants, especially the most prestigious and best-funded grants, work with a time-limit, e.g. you can only apply until Y years after getting your PhD degree, or between X and Y years after getting your PhD degree. If you had a baby, you can add a certain number of months to Y – which makes the timeframe more flexible for the applicant.

Now, as our friend of the blog Z rightly remarks in the comment following my previous post, the ERC has a quite remarkable policy on time-recognition for having a baby:

if you want to be shocked by something in the [ERC] report, you can have a look at their policy towards the deduction of parental leave from the qualifying period for a starting grant: 18 months per children for women, the actual amount of parental leave taken for men. Say what? What is the presupposition here that justifies such a differential treatment? What was wrong with “the actual amount of leave taken” (perhaps times a multiplier to be more family friendly) for both gender? I felt insulted both as a father of two children born in quite rapid succession at a critical period of my career and on behalf of my wife, who apparently is considered by the ERC to be not being devoted to her work for 18 months, even if she worked full-time the day her mandatory maternity leave ended.


I assume that the reasoning of those who invented this ERC rule is that we know from social science research that in Europe young mothers spend much more time on the care of babies than fathers; and in order not to harm their prospects of an academic career, the ERC gives mothers time recognition for that carework. Yet, as Z rightly points out, this assumes that parenthood cannot affect fathers to the same degree, and thereby also reinforces the sexist norm that we expect fathers not to be involved, which is a norm that harms both fathers and mothers.

Another relevant question is whether the unequal gendered division of child care is still as unequal among academics and their partners as it is among some other parts of the population. I don’t know statistics that focus specifically on this group. But I have many academic friends (and of course also can get some glimpses of the gendered division of care work of my colleagues), and it seems to me that scholars and their partners have some of the most egalitarian gender division of child care of all social strata. In that case, that would be another reason to endorse Z’s proposal of granting each parent for each child born a time extension equal to the actual amount of leave taken (possibly multiplied with a factor).
——————————-
(1) possibly all, I do not know.

{ 25 comments }

1

Z 04.05.14 at 7:37 am

I am sure that the rule was well-meaning but

and thereby also reinforces the sexist norm that we expect fathers not to be involved, which is a norm that harms both fathers and mothers.

That, precisely.

2

JW Mason 04.05.14 at 3:38 pm

This is a very interesting issue. It seems to me that there is a genuine dilemma here, of a sort that arises frequently at the interface between public policy and private life. On the one hand, formal equality is an important goal in itself. But on the other hand, in a world where there are systematic differences in people’s life circumstances, formal equality can perpetuate substantive inequality. Z is right that we don’t want policies of this kind to acknowledge the different demands family labor places on men and women in a way that legitimizes those differences. But on the other hand, I don’t think we want policy to simply ignore those differences either.

In this concrete case: Suppose it really is true that having children is a significantly larger handicap for scholarly work for women than for men. Then a gender-neutral policy is going to systematically disadvantage women who have kids early in their academic careers. I think most CT readers will agree this is not just a hypothetical possibility.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting there are any “natural” sex differences, in terms of raising children or anything else. I take it for granted that it is both possible and desirable to have a society where childraising responsibilities fall equally on men and women. But given that we aren’t there yet, it’s not obvious to me that the best way to get closer to that ideal is always to organize the public sphere in a gender-neutral way.

It would be very interesting to know something about the discussions that led to this policy.

3

JW Mason 04.05.14 at 3:41 pm

(Another way of looking at this — maybe the goal is to differentially encourage men to actually take parental leave, and thereby nudge academics toward a more equal division of childcare.)

4

Z 04.05.14 at 8:34 pm

@JW Mason, if that’s the goal (and I agree it most likely is), the problem is that it is counterproductive. Suppose my wife and I are both equally talented researchers and we are considering who will take parental leave to care for our children. Then unless I take at least 18 months (which is really a lot) then the best choice is that my wife should take all: she gets compensated for 18 months no matter what.

Total agreement on what you wrote about not ignoring real gender imbalances when crafting policies: at first glance “actual amount of leave taken (perhaps times something)” seems quite reasonable (as women tend to take more, they get compensated more, and it is a strong incitation for men to take more).

5

Main Street Muse 04.05.14 at 9:25 pm

Z @4 “Then unless I take at least 18 months (which is really a lot) then the best choice is that my wife should take all: she gets compensated for 18 months no matter what.”

I don’t really understand this. Why is 18 months “really a lot” when you, the husband, consider taking it; but something the wife should take because she gets compensated no matter what?

Are the husband and wife applying for the same grants? Is this 18 months total for the family? Does the clock start ticking the moment the baby is born? Or can a spouse take it later, say, perhaps, when the child is 18 months old and the first academic parent has used up the time.

I guess I don’t understand the idea that grants go only to those of breeding years, fresh out of the academy. Oldsters years away from their school years need not apply.

(FWIW – I think it is charming they give ANY recognition for parenthood! I was freelance in the US private sector when we had our babies, so there was no parental leave/time recognition at all. One worked or did not get paid. Most corporations I consulted with had poor maternity leave and worse paternity leave. One client had her baby and was back at her high-pressure 12-hour/day job within a couple of weeks.)

6

Julie 04.05.14 at 10:16 pm

Great discussion: we talked about exactly this issue when putting a submission to an Australian funding body (and didn’t come to any satisfactory conclusion). I like the idea that an explicit goal of the policy is to encourage fathers to take leave— that makes the on-paper inequality a bit easier to take.

I don’t understand Z’s calculation: if the mother is granted 18 months whether she keeps working or takes leave, she’s surely best off keeping working, while the father takes leave (that he is then credited for).

7

Z 04.06.14 at 6:02 am

Julie, you are completely right. What was I thinking?

8

Z 04.06.14 at 6:19 am

And so the rule is actually quite family and women friendly! I retract my prior criticisms (perhaps one could wish that the policy be more explicit so even daft people like me would understand).

9

Mario 04.06.14 at 7:12 pm

Ah, the ERC staring grants. Aren’t they great?

The ratio of applicants to awarded grants is between 20:1 and up to 25:1. This has as a consequence a couple of things.

For every person that gets the grant, there are 20-25 that didn’t, but spent a month or so writing the best proposal that they could. A huge waste of time and energy. The rejections frustrate too, but let’s not look at that. Also, since there are so many good (impeccable, otherwise forget it) grant applications, it ends up being decided via the (also impeccable, otherwise forget it, too) CV.

And here is the thing. There is no way that a person that actually takes 18 months of real, full time parental leave has the kind of CV needed to obtain an ERC grant.

(As a footnote – let’s extrapolating some years into the future, where universities are populated by ERC SG winners, and their careers and sacrifices will be considered the norm. Will anyone dare to actually take parental leave?)

My observations / opinion anyway.

Z: I wish you good luck, and the opportunity of spending lots of time with your kids.

10

Z 04.06.14 at 8:02 pm

Mario, the good luck wishing is very much appreciated but the situation described above was a complete hypothetical: as I mentioned in passing in the other thread, I am quite wary of the ERC grants (too bureaucratic, too unfair, too much administrative hassles for already overexploited secretaries, way too much for too few IMO) and more generally of this mode of funding research so I have no intention to apply (not that I would have nowhere near the CV anyway).

My kids are fine though, and I had great time with them today!

11

Ingrid Robeyns 04.06.14 at 8:25 pm

Mario has a point. I know many mothers and fathers in academia who took maternity leave (14-18 weeks) and perhaps another one day a week for a year, but that’s it at most. So why do we then give mothers 18 months for each child and fathers nothing at all, except if they took leave? One can, rightly so, assume that become a mother means that one will for a few years not be able to devote one’s spare time to doing research (since if one has spare time, one will want to sleep (in the first year) or do something with one’s kids (later on). BUT: doesn’t the same hold for fathers?

Also, what we should keep in mind is that fathers and mothers will never take actual parental leave decisions based on these ERC regulations. Surely no young father/mothers takes these rules into account when deciding whether or not to take leave. So it’s all about ex-post recognition of the time cost of parenting, not about providing incentives.

I therefore still think that Z’s original proposal is well worth considering.

12

Lynne 04.06.14 at 8:37 pm

As a non-academic whose children have grown I hesitated to chime in here. I don’t know about the ERC grants, for instance. But regarding parental leave, I am wary of the trend to treat parenting of young children the same whether it is done by the mum or the dad because of the physical toll of pregnancy and childbirth on mothers. Now of course, childbirth is easier on some women than others. Not all women breastfeed, some pregnancies are breezed through, others are really hard. But still, it seems to me worth remembering the the parent who actually grew the child and gave birth to her and possibly is her sole source of nourishment for the first six months of life has more to do than the parent who does none of these things however willing he might be to do them.

13

JW Mason 04.06.14 at 9:55 pm

doesn’t the same hold for fathers?

No it doesn’t, not in the US at least. Coupled mothers of young children report spending twice as many hours per day with their children as coupled fathers do. I know that not everywhere is the US, and the division is more egalitarian in some Scandinavian countries, but I imagine it’s probably comparable for Europe as a whole.

I would like to live in a world where mothers and fathers of young children shared the burden of care for them equally. But we don’t live in that world yet.

14

Belle Waring 04.07.14 at 1:10 am

It’s a difficult question as to how one takes into account structural inequalities without endorsing them. There is something to be said for the notion that the actual “I just gave birth to a baby” part is unusually taxing; I don’t think it’s crazy for there to be some physical recuperation consideration going on (not that you’re super-resting ha ha, but anyway.) But what about moms who adopt, do they not count? Do gay dads who adopt not deserve any time to adjust to a new life when they were maybe never trusted to take care of sibs/hired as babysitters during their pre-teen/teen years, when many young women learned lots of rudimentary child care skills? Or even all the child care skills, depending? I think the best thing is probably that we invite HStC back for a guest post.

15

Meredith 04.07.14 at 5:35 am

Belle’s queries about adopting parents, gay parents prompt me to comment. Accommodations are made for them in many US academic institutions. The more elite, the more accommodating. As also accommodations are made for straight and biological parents, with acknowledgement of the physical toll taken on biological mothers, as incubators (! dare I use this word?), bearers, and early nurturers — lactating and all that (hello, Lynne). A long way from ideal, but people are working at it.

In my experience (two children with no maternity leaves, my husband certainly receiving no leaves or course-relief, though he would fetch and change night-time’s crying baby before presenting him or her to my wearing and eager breast), in a day of heavier teaching loads and all — not to mention hardly any daycare available, period, much less from one’s college or university!): there’s no easy answer to all these questions, but goodwill and a generous sense of our shared projects in one another and those who come after us.

Because while you are absolutely and totally absorbed in that baby (as I asked my weary-looking OB, his coffee in hand, in all honesty of my first-born — I was kind of tired, too — isn’t he the most beautiful baby you have ever seen? he nodded), devoted to its well-being more than anything else in the world, you are also moving on, transformed by that baby but also (thanks in part to that transformation) independent of her or him. There’s something right about that dynamic that our policies should nurture.

16

Z 04.07.14 at 8:39 am

So it’s all about ex-post recognition of the time cost of parenting, not about providing incentives.

FWIW, that’s what provoked my ire in the first place: the feeling that the rule was in essence saying that that my parental care was worthless (obviously, if I wasn’t taking leave, having children had no impact on me) and that my wife’s work was worthless (obviously, if she has children, it is as if she was on leave, even though she was working). I guess the ruling does provide incentives of some sort though, as I think Julie correctly points.

I am wary of the trend to treat parenting of young children the same whether it is done by the mum or the dad because of the physical toll of pregnancy and childbirth on mothers.

and

There is something to be said for the notion that the actual “I just gave birth to a baby” part is unusually taxing

I think one has to be crystal-clear in this discussion that we are only discussing parental leave beyond the obvious medical mandatory full-paid leave every pregnant woman is entitled to owing to the medical condition of being pregnant and giving birth (or not, actually, for miscarriages should obviously be included). Every civilized country will offer (indeed, impose) such leaves for a duration that must be determined in comparison with other comparable medical conditions. I understand that this criteria might exclude the US of the circle of civilized countries.

Incidentally, the CNRS (the largest employer of researchers in Europe, I think, and one of the largest in the world) got a legal reprimand 10 or 12 years ago because it did not display an honest effort to prevent pregnant employees and young mothers to work during the period of the mandatory maternity leave.

17

Belle Waring 04.07.14 at 9:24 am

Z: um, yeah, US often gets left with Sudan and such when it comes to various things. “UN Treaty on the Rights of the Child? No, thanks!” I breast-fed continuously for four years since I weaned #2 at 2+ and let #1 nurse throughout (though she didn’t really need it for food obviously.) I didn’t have a job, I think needless to say.

18

Lynne 04.07.14 at 12:46 pm

“I think one has to be crystal-clear in this discussion that we are only discussing parental leave beyond the obvious medical mandatory full-paid leave every pregnant woman is entitled to owing to the medical condition of being pregnant and giving birth”

Okay, I wasn’t sure. What is the mandatory full-paid leave in the EU? And what leave is usually available other than that, to mothers and to fathers? In Canada there is almost a year of leave available, but things have changed since my children were young and I’m not sure how much of that is maternity leave and how much is parental leave that is available to either parent. Years ago Canada’s provision was much better than the UK’s, for instance, and I believe is still much better than the US’s, though theirs might vary from state to state.

I see why the discrepancy makes you angry if the eighteen months allowed to women is beyond a reasonable maternity leave (reasonable as in covering the physical reality of childbirth and nursing.)

19

Lynne 04.07.14 at 12:56 pm

Hello Meredith!

“with acknowledgement of the physical toll taken on biological mothers, as incubators (! dare I use this word?)”

A heating pad or a sunny rock could incubate. How about “growers?” Or how about just “pregnant”? And lactating isn’t really the point, it’s the nursing of the actual baby, right?

Love your doctor’s response. Mine after baby #2 was similar. He came into the hospital room and said “What a cute baby”, unprompted. Naturally I was impressed with his discernment.

Probably it’s not uncommon for there to be both maternity leave provisions for the mother and parental leave for either or both parents—at least I hope it’s not uncommon. And parental leave would of course be available to fathers and adoptive mothers.

20

TM 04.08.14 at 2:00 pm

“No it doesn’t, not in the US at least. Coupled mothers of young children report spending twice as many hours per day with their children as coupled fathers do.”

I am sure that is true and was therefore amazed to note that the opposite is being claimed in this book that surprisingly has garnered quite positive reviews:

The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World [yep, that's the original title of the US edition!]
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/mar/20/women-at-the-top/

This is not strictly on-topic but I was wondering why that narrative (more or less, “gender bias is a myth, at least for the wealthy and successful women of my acquaintance”) doesn’t seem to get challenged. What’s going one???

21

ah 04.09.14 at 12:50 pm

small data point here – i’m an ERC funded researcher with 2 children. I took around 6 months off for each (and have an academic partner who could work flexibly). In all other grants, I’ve just counted 6 months per baby as the ‘extra time’. but realistically, it took a lot longer to get properly back to work. my first child didn’t sleep through the night until she was 18 months old, and work at that point was just keeping my head above water in terms of teaching/admin, with no time left for research. so the 18 months extra time from the ERC did feel like an appropriate recognition of the time I’d missed from research.

I agree it would be great to have better recognition for fathers doing childcare tool.

22

Meredith 04.10.14 at 5:12 am

Been too busy with work and with grown children and their issues to keep up, but I do wish we all talked about these things more. Menstruation, too. That phenomenon has organized a lot of human life, after all. When we start getting real about all this, maybe we’ll make some progress.

23

Main Street Muse 04.10.14 at 9:04 pm

From Z – “Every civilized country will offer (indeed, impose) such leaves for a duration that must be determined in comparison with other comparable medical conditions. I understand that this criteria might exclude the US of the circle of civilized countries.”

This just kind of makes me laugh in a teary sort of way. US is so anti-family that full-paid mandatory family leave is simply not available to many US workers. One can take all the unpaid leave one wants – for some, this turns into a longish stint as a SAHM, with the expected impact on one’s career.

24

ingrid robeyns 04.10.14 at 10:01 pm

ah @ 21 – I can see your argument – and my personal experience is the same. But apart from pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding the father of my children was as much involved – hence had as many broken nights as I did, and was exhausted for as many months as I was. Neither of us took parental leave but we both worked part-time for a few years – which I am not sure the ERC would recognize (but I haven’t checked the rules). He also had several years in which his research time suffered badly – perhaps if I missed 18 months research time per child, he missed 12 or 15, yet under these ERC rules I would get time-credits and he would get none. That can’t be quite right. I can see the complexity of implementing a rule that is fair, but I think giving both parents the time they actually took off with giving mothers a guaranteed minimum (e.g. 6 or 9 months) seems a fairer rule.
There are also scholars without children who spend lots of time (and lots of stress) caring for ill family members or for their frail parents – and they don’t get time credits for that care work either. If that they do not take official leave, how can we acknowledge their care work as time that could not be spent on research? In theory I think there are reasons to do this, but in practice I don’t see how.

25

Meredith 04.11.14 at 5:21 am

Maybe too many details are getting rationalized/bureaucratized (I’m put in mind of Ptolemaic epicycles) when what is needed is a radical shift in the way we all imagine our days when we wake up in the morning? How we are going to “spend” our time? How can we distribute work of all kinds so that everyone has more time for savoring that work and for other activities, from hanging out with family and friends to the civic to gardening to playing music to daydreaming? The next big epistemic shift (if it ever happens) will entail taking better advantage of the potential our ancestors, from agriculturalists to industrialists to software engineers, have bequeathed to us, rather than digging around endlessly in the contradictions we’ve also inherited from them. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. (Well, I can dream, can’t I?)

Comments on this entry are closed.