Sex, Work, Children, Trends

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | January 23, 2009 11:58 am

Science bloggers are still abuzz over Wednesday’s discussion of women in academia and now Razib (one of my very favorite sciblings) has taken the topic one step further.  He collected data on the mean number of hours worked last week broken down by sex and compared that with the number of children per individual. I always enjoy reading Razib’s amusing analyses (and justified reason to link great flicks from the 80s):

As you can see, the more children women have, the fewer hours they
worked last week (on average). Women are primary care givers, no
surprise. On the other hand, you can see a different trend for males. I
suspect that reflects the reality that losers can’t find mates.

hours worked children.png


Comments (20)

  1. Angela
  2. It looks to me like men work more hours for the first couple of kids and then it declines to a bit above the level of no kids. That might have to do with financial demands (to support kids) and demographics (ie who has more than 5 kids).

  3. Walker

    On the other hand, you can see a different trend for males. I suspect that reflects the reality that losers can’t find mates.

    Huh? The graph is number of children. It has nothing to do with marital status.

    While this may sound very fieldish of me, this is exactly why I don’t trust graphs from biologists without error bars or methodology.

  4. Lilian,
    That’s what I suspect although there are too many variables to actually extrapolate much without more information.

    I doubt Razib meant marriage by ‘mates’ and he’s joking of course…

  5. Wait, wait, wait, Sheril!!! Stop the freakin’ presses? Is this the data from the 160,000 PhD-holders? And people with no kids are working 39 and 42 hours a week? Am I the only one to who that makes no sense? Where are the error bars on this crap?

    39 hours per week my tight little ass!

  6. Why of course not Isis…

    It’s data from Razib based on a single week, not limited to science and engineering, and not intended to be taken completely seriously…

    Further, more surprising are those women with 7 children clocking over 30 hours!

  7. ctenotrish

    Umm, if you think a person with one or more children isn’t *working*, you are off your rocker! Maybe not working for salary, but trust me, parents work.

  8. As mathematician Paul Halmos said:

    “If your paper is looking vacuous,
    use the first-order functional calculus.
    then it becomes logic,
    and as if by magic,
    the obvious is hailed as miraculous”

    Nothing can kick off a debate on the obvious like statistics.

  9. to replicate my findings, go here:

    go to the top-left, click “analysis,” then click “comparison of means.”

    dependent: “hrs1”
    row: “childs”
    column: “sex”

    you’ll see ability to filter & stats at the bottom.

    tx for the link sheril đŸ˜‰

  10. bsci

    WIth regards to academia, I think a more relevant chart is figure 7 at:

    This is a survey of faculty in the University of California system (all campuses). While it does show that women with children do less job-related work than men with or without children, it also shows that part of the issue is that, even at the faculty level, women with children spend much more time than men on caregiving/housework.

  11. amphibious

    Isn’t it more important to discuss how to make academia more hospitable to parents of both genders? (Yes, I’m a guy; my biases: pursuing a doctorate, engaged to a woman with a professional degree, and we’ve discussed this topic frequently.)

    Both men and women freely select their careers and the amount of time they devote to raising children. I think I have the same right to expect a work structure that allows me to be an involved parent as anyone else for the simple reason that I’m human.

    I don’t expect to be able to be as involved with my children as I should be while competing for university tenure – so I’ve adjusted the expectations of my career to one that allows a balance of work achievement and family. In other words, I’m taking myself out of competition for the “top spots” a priori because my CV is less important than my (hypothetical and not yet conceived) children.

    Incidentally, the discussion might benefit from an analysis of veterinarians, particularly at universities. The graduating classes have been heavily skewed towards women lately (Michigan State had an entire cohort of dozens of students, 100% of whom were women).

  12. bsci

    amphibious. I think the point you are overlooking here is that things done to make universities more hospitable to active parents IS more significant for women to men. Whether it makes sense or not, more women than men are significant care-givers and policies that benefit families benefit them more.

    That said, policies to benefit parents in academia should be gender non-specific whenever possible. For example there’s not reason to allow tenure clock slowing for women, but not men when a child is born. On the other hand, things like private spaces so nursing mothers can pump is clearly a female specific benefit with no male comparison.

  13. Isn’t it more important to discuss how to make academia more hospitable to parents of both genders? (Yes, I’m a guy; my biases: pursuing a doctorate, engaged to a woman with a professional degree, and we’ve discussed this topic frequently.)

    Blah, blah, blah.

  14. 38 hours… i don’t know whether to laugh hysterically or cry at that. i don’t know when the last time i had a 38 hour week was, but it wasn’t in grad school.

  15. Lindsey

    I agree with ‘Brenda, or perhaps Carl’ so reposting the full aforementioned comment:

    I thought the graph at The Intersection blog (see comment #2) was interesting. According to that graph, women with no children work fewer hours than men with no children. This gender difference was as great as that for a woman with no children compared to a woman with 5-6 children (which is a lot of children!).

    It seems to me, based on this data, that children are less of a factor in time spent at work than gender. It might be useful to discuss why.

    Possible explanations below. Some are inflammatory and unrealistic, some otherwise. You decide:

    1) Women are lazier than men.
    2) Women work more efficiently than men.
    3) Women have more unavoidable non-work, non-child-related commitments than men.
    4) The data in the graph are completely bogus for some reason or another.

    If numbers 1 or 3 are true, it indeed behooves an institution to avoid hiring women. If number 2 is true, women should be preferentially hired, especially for positions that pay hourly wages. If number 4 is true, then there is yet no data here supporting the conclusion that women are professionally crippled by a need to care for children.

    Perhaps I missed some possible explanations?

  16. The obvious explanation to me is that men lie about how much they work more than women do.

  17. Doormat

    Razib is not being terribly helpful on his blog, but if you dig around, you can find the raw data here: and search for “HRS1”. The exact link (without frames) is

    The question asked is “1a. If working, full or part time: how many hours did you work last week, at all jobs?” Notice how there are large clusters around 30, 60, and especially, 40 and 50 hours. A total of 51020 people answered. The data comes from “General Social Surveys, 1972-2006”: see

    Now, the important point is: This data is from a cross-section of American society. It has nothing to do with academia, and certainly isn’t data taken from people who work in academia, or who necessarily have doctorates etc.

    So, how to interpret the data. It’s well known that women are over-represented in part-time jobs, for example. That alone would explain the fact that women work fewer hours than men, regardless of the number of children they have. On the comment that Lindsey posted, I think this fits under (4), as most other commentators seem to be assuming that this data applies specifically to academics… Actually, bsci makes exactly this point:


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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