Amid Covid19, Scientists With Children Are Working 17% Fewer Hours Than Those Without Kids: Study


Jul 16, 2020


Image Credit: Hitesh Sonar For the Swaddle/Depositphotos

Scientists with young children, especially women, have been forced to drastically reduce the amount of time they spend on research, compared to those who don’t have children, a study has found. This could have long-term effects on their careers and widen the existing gender inequalities in science.

For the study, researchers from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Yale University, and Harvard University conducted a survey of 4,000 scientists in Europe and the U.S. The survey solicited information about how scientists’ work changed amid the pandemic and how their research output might be affected in the near future. The questions pertained to their field of study, career stage, their own age, gender, number, and age of dependents in the household.

Although a majority of the respondents reported reduced work hours, those with at least one child below age five reported a 17% reduction compared to peers without children. While women with children reported a 5% larger decline in research time than men, scientists who study laboratory sciences such as chemistry and biology also reported a greater loss of work hours compared to both men and women scientists in fields such as statistics or economics.

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Only 1 in 3 Covid19 Research Papers Have Been Authored by Women: Study

Such a reduction has direct implications as it could lead to fewer publications, potentially affect scientists’ tenure decisions, and leave an impact on their careers in the long-term.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. And, the pandemic is only going to exacerbate the existing inequalities given the amount of time women have had to dedicate to household chores and care work, which affects their levels of productivity and quality of work.

Globally, women perform 76% of unpaid care work, three times more than men. Per a recently released report authored by Melinda Gates, even a two-hour increase in women’s unpaid care work reduces their ability to participate in the labor force by 10%. And failing to take into account the disproportionate impact of Covid19 on women, along with their roles in alleviating the harm, will mean a long, slow recovery that could cost the world economy at least 5 trillion dollars, she has warned.

“I think, finally, for the first time, this unpaid labour, which has been one of the biggest cracks in society that no one wants to look at, is in everybody’s face right now,” Gates said. “We have to keep this on the forefront of the agenda. If we don’t look at the health systems, the economic systems, and how we can build back, if we don’t look at the data or the female leadership or use those women’s collectives, we’re not going to build back in a better way. We’re going to have a very, very long slow recovery across the globe.”

The need to care for dependents is not unique to the scientific workforce. However, the findings of the current study are of significance when it comes to women scientists. This is because it is only with their inclusion that we will have a chance to look at unique perspectives in scientific conversation and in understanding how diseases, drugs, and vaccines affect men and women differently.


Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.


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