Baby pictures on homepages

by Eszter Hargittai on October 20, 2004

If anyone has the time, I would love to see a systematic study of how many male versus female academics (or other professionals) portray themselves on their Web sites with or without babies. I realize the complications, e.g. really hard to sample people’s homepages, really hard to control for whether said person portrayed on a Web site even has a baby, but I’d still be curious to see someone gather data on this.

Here’s my motivation for the question. I recently saw a job talk where the candidate had pictures of his kids on his computer’s desktop. I have never seen a woman give a talk with this kind of background illustration (granted, I had never before seen a man give such a talk either). It made me think that this person could pull it off because as a guy he does not have to be concerned about committee members wondering whether he has a spouse who will need a job as well or whether he will take his work seriously despite the fact that he has children. But I recall plenty of cases of women who are married without children or on the market as mothers worrying considerably about how to downplay such personal information.

My impression is that men tend to put up pictures of their children on their professional Web sites more often, but I do not base this observation on any systematic analysis of the situation. I suspect the reason for this (assuming it really is the case) is that for male professionals to show themselves with a baby counts as a positive quality, or, in the least, will likely not count as a negative. It suggests that he is a concerned and proud father who takes his parental duties seriously (okay, that may be a leap:), he is an enlightened man. In contrast, I suspect women still feel that they have to prove themselves as professional first, parent second (or in the least prove that the latter doesn’t trump the former) thus prompting them not to be quite as forward about personal information on their Web sites. I guess one could argue that if for someone a proud father means an enlightened man then a proud mother should not come with negative repercussions, but it is not clear that the mothers feel that way about it.

Just among the people I know, I can think of at least a few couples where the man’s Web site has relatively prominent family information whereas the woman’s site downplays any such content. Even if it is simply about the parents projecting onto their environment how they may be perceived, that is already something to consider about how mothers versus fathers are made to feel about their family situations in professional settings.



Jonathan Dresner 10.20.04 at 11:18 am

Does it count if I have a link from my professional page to my family pictures page, but no actual pictures? I also have links to my op-ed and blog writing, as well as ongoing research and curricular and teaching projects. I also have a wholly professional cv page, which is one of the first links on my main page.

I don’t think a systematic survey is strictly necessary, though it would probably suffice for some sociologist’s seminar paper; clearly the trend is as you describe it, and the reasons you describe are quite well-known.


mona 10.20.04 at 12:24 pm

I have noticed the same thing. I think you have a good point there. Personally I tend to be a bit put off in general by any professional web sites where the ‘about me’ page features too many details and photos of family, spouse, children, etc. Whether it’s a man or a woman doing it, I just think it’s a bit, um, tacky – there’s exceptions, sometimes it fits with an informal tone in presenting yourself, and of course it’s a matter of personal preference. I just think it’s more professional to avoid references to one’s private life. To have a separate “family pictures” site for that, if desired. If I want to hire a web designer I couldn’t care less if he or she is married with children or not and how gorgeous they are. Sometimes, there’s a sort of involuntary implication of family as career achievement, as a sort of asset to show off, I don’t know, it depends how it’s done, but it can come across as a bit too… reality-show style (especially when it’s in the form of “I live with my BEAUTIFUL wife and three children”…) Photos of children I find especially troublesome. Again, it depends, but I generally don’t think it’s a great idea to have pictures of your kids broadcast to anyone on a medium where you can’t control who accesses them. Plus the kids cannot give their consent, what if when they grow up they feel embarassed by having their name and child pictures on the internet? It can be cute when it’s a family site, but on a professional site, I think it’s a no no, regardless of gender.


Kieran Healy 10.20.04 at 2:11 pm

Yeah, I think Eszter is basically right about this. A related phenomenon in severe cases is women removing their wedding rings during job-talk visits. (I’ve also heard of women _acquiring_ fake wedding rings before attending particular conferences.)


Timothy Burke 10.20.04 at 2:46 pm

I raised this exact issue in an entry last year, along with some general thoughts on Deborah Tannen-type arguments.

Short version: yes, I think it’s true that academic men (and professional men more generally) have the privilege to incorporate representations of their family into presentations of their work and not be regarded as unprofessional for it–and that women do not. I was even able to mention the fact that because I had been serving as the primary caregiver for an infant in the second half of my sabbatical, I didn’t get that much done, and not feel self-conscious about it. A female colleague observed that no woman could do that.

But my reading of that observation is different than hers. She’d rather no one does it; I’d rather everyone could do it.


anon 10.20.04 at 3:14 pm

I once saw a man applying for an academic job show a picture of his family at the end of a slide show, and thought to myself “I wonder if he’s trying to assure the audience that he isn’t gay?”


John Davies 10.20.04 at 4:12 pm

Or could it be that men are more visual?

I heard a radio program about women in prison. They said that when the prisoner’s children came to visit, the women kept smelling them. As a guy, that really wouldn’t occur to me.


Mary Kay 10.20.04 at 4:49 pm

Seems obvious really. The truly interesting study would be who has pictures of their pets and cats or dogs? Or exotics?



Jeff Cooper 10.20.04 at 4:57 pm

Are we talking here about academic homepages or about blogs? I’ve been known to post about my son on occasion, complete with occasional pictures. But that’s on my blog. I wouldn’t do it on a school-related homepage. And I think I’ve included a picture of him in a Powerpoint class presentation exactly once–the day after he was born.


Richard Bellamy 10.20.04 at 4:58 pm

In a completely random survey of every one of the current homepages of the 44 members of my major at my alma mater (U.Penn, English Dept.) I found that of the 24 men and 20 women, only two had family pictures — both were men. One was a family group shot with no young children present or relationships described. The other was the former head of the Department (he was head when I was there) and had the most extensive webpage of any member of the faculty on a whole range of issues. It shows him with 2 young children.

I wonder how much of this is self-censorship versus actual prejudice. I guess you would have to see if percent of women with pictures of children increase after the women get tenure. (While controlling for the fact that the percent of women with children — photographed or not — likely increases after tenure.)


P O'Neill 10.20.04 at 5:05 pm

One theory I’ve heard is that male professors use the kid pictures as a signal that they are NOT single, because they think college administrators are concerned about the risk of prof-student relationships with single professors.


Laura 10.20.04 at 8:05 pm

Yes, Eszter, I think you’re totally right. Women with kids have to have keep the kids in a closet, while professional dads get to be the proud papas. I remember Tim’s post on the topic, and I agree with him. Everyone should post the baby pictures on their laptops.

The problem is that a woman professional with kids is seen as less capable. Her first priority must be the kids, so there is no way she can get the work done. It’s assumed that that dads have a stay at home mother to take care of sick days from school and such. Their work won’t be impeded by the rugrats.

Also, there is the widespread assumption that moms are stupid and preoccupied with potty changing and Oprah. Have a kid and your IQ drops by 40 points.


Carolos Obscuros 10.20.04 at 8:45 pm

An alternative or supplementary hypothesis:

Academics have high social status, and males with high social status are also highly likely to marry, and hence have kids whose snapshots they can display.

Women with high social status are far more unlikely to marry than males. They don’t display snapshots of their kids because they don’t have any kids in the first place.


Peter 10.20.04 at 10:13 pm

The high status could also tend to mean especially attractive wives, and therefore children, whose pictures reflect well on the husband and father.


kaw 10.20.04 at 11:19 pm

One of my colleagues is working on a series of vignette and audit studies of the motherhood penalty and fatherhood wage premium. (These phenomenon are pretty well known in the gender inequality literature, but most of the evidence comes from longitudinal survey data that aren’t particularly definitive about causality.)

She’s found that, given identical cues about the competence and experience of hypothetical employees, respondents consistently judge mothers to be less competent, assign lower compensation, tolerate much less absenteeism, and are less likely to nominate them for managerial training than single women, fathers, or childless men. So far she’s been limited to undergraduate respondents, though she’s working on an audit variant that uses real employers. To the extent that this phenomenon carries over to the real world, and the wage data suggest it does, disguising parental status may still be very rational for many women.

I’ve noticed gender-biased evaluations first hand, in our faculty searches. If we’re talking about a female candidate, inevitably one of the first questions out of someone’s mouth is, “what does her partner do?” (See, we’re so liberal in academic sociology that when we’re making gendered assumptions about career ambitions and “moveability,” we use “partner” rather than “husband”.) The two-body issue comes up for the male candidates, but usually not until after the discussion of the substance and quality of their work. Drives me nuts.


Cruella 10.21.04 at 5:31 pm

Seems to me that women wouldn’t put kids piccies into their workspace because we all know that anything which can be used against us will be. Sorry if that sounds depressive/pessimistic. I heard a guy the other week saying women should be paid less to do city jobs because there was a higher risk of them suing for sexist treatment!!


binky 10.21.04 at 6:36 pm

As in Kaw’s comment, I’ve seen the gender bias on children in a couple of departments, especially in evaluation of grad students. Women with children are treated as not serious, distracted, and are not encouraged to continue in the program. Men with children get special notice and consideration. I attended one funding meeting in which a colleague actually suggested as a reason to give a teaching assistantship to a particular male grad student that “he has a child to support.” At the same time, a single mother was discussed as having too many irons in the fire. Maddening.


Jeremy Pierce 10.23.04 at 1:38 am

If men have a larger presence in academia, and male academics have a larger presence on the internet, then you’d have to compare proportionally rather than just numerically. I’m not sure which you were doing, but I suspect the latter.

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