The authors conjecture that this unequal division of
home labor may explain why fewer women reach the elite level of the
"Because we see differences even among a select group of individuals
who were smart and motivated enough to achieve elite grants from the
federal government to support their career development as
researchers, we have reason to worry that similarly bright and
capable men and women are not succeeding at the same rate," senior
author Dr. Reshma Jagsi told Reuters Health.
Jagsi is a radiation oncologist at the University of Michigan in Ann
Arbor, and a female physician-researcher herself.
She and her team surveyed recent recipients of prestigious
early-career grants, bestowed by the National Institutes of Health,
for researchers with degrees in clinical medicine.
The authors mailed questionnaires to 1719 researchers who had
received a grant between 2006 and 2009. Just over 1000 MDs
responded, 437 of whom were women. Of both women and men, most were
married or partnered and had children.
Single men without children reported spending the most time on
research, about 44 hours per week, compared to 40 hours per week for
single women without children.
Married or partnered women with children spent the least time on
research, 35 hours per week, compared to 40 hours per week for
married men with children, according to the results published in the
Annals of Internal Medicine.
Though married men and women with children spent roughly the same
amount of time teaching, caring for patients or doing other paid
labor, there was a large difference in time spent on domestic labor:
44 hours for women and 32 hours for men.
One item on the 173-point questionnaire asked how much of the total
time spent on parenting or domestic tasks — such as cooking,
cleaning, home maintenance and finances — was "spent by you."
Married or partnered women with children reported spending an
average of 44 percent of the total time devoted to parenting or
domestic tasks themselves.
Men in similar situations said they spent 25 percent of that time
"While balancing work and family is a challenge for many men and
women alike, regardless of what kind of work they do, a career as a
physician-researcher can be quite intense and demanding, and if a
woman also faces substantial responsibilities at home, this
challenge may be particularly difficult," Jagsi said.
[to top of second column]
Dr. Molly Cooke, president of the American College of Physicians,
wrote an editorial accompanying the study.
"I think that we should have broader definitions of success," Cooke
told Reuters Health.
Academic medicine is particularly conservative, but the same
situation is probably true at a high level in any other fields, in
which women in their 30's don't see as many older women as
department chairs or deans and are less encouraged to take that
route, Cooke said. Age 30 to 40 is a critical period for research
output if you want to reach the highest levels, she added, and that
also happens to be the time women who want to have babies are having
"All of that being said, it is a lot easier being a
physician-researcher and a mother than being a mother in a minimum
wage job in the service sector or working on the line in a cannery,
so we have to keep some perspective on all of this," Cooke said.
Societal and cultural norms may influence women's choices to spend
more time on domestic activities, Jagsi said.
She used the example of emergency contact forms for school children.
At least in her area, she said, the forms ask for the mother's name
first, so even if the father would prefer to be the primary point of
contact, the mother is usually called first.
"A woman might not turn away a call from the school nurse, but the
fact that she was the first one called might explain why she is the
one who picks up the child, and her 'choice' to go might have
nothing to do with her having a deeper belief that she is the parent
better suited to care for a sick child," Jagsi said. "We need to be
aware of the context within which choices are made and preferences
Annals of Internal Medicine, online March
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