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Cui Bono?

Family-friendly policies at universities advance men's careers but not women's careers, the New York Times' Justin Wolfers writes. Wolfers is an economics professor at the University of Michigan. 

Typically, tenure decisions are made within seven years of obtaining an academic position, but those years are also prime childbearing years, and so tenure clock stopping policies were put in place with the aim of helping women who needed to take time to have children to be able continue on their career path, the Times notes. Many of these policies are gender-neutral and men as well as women could take advantage of them, it adds.

A trio of economists — Heather Antecol from Claremont McKenna College and the University of California, Santa Barbara's Kelly Bedard and Jenna Stearns — compiled a dataset of all assistant professors hired at the 50 top economics departments in the US between 1985 and 2004 to examine who benefited from tenure-extension policies.

As they report in their IZA paper, they found that after these policies were put in place, the probability that a man received tenure at his first job rose by 19 percentage points, while it fell 22 percentage points for women. In addition, the researchers found that men who took advantage of the policy published more papers during their clock-stopped year than their female counterparts.

This, Wolfers says, could reflect "the physical toll of pregnancy, the difficulties of a complicated birth, the extra task of nursing, or simply an unwillingness to shirk parenting duties." In the end, though, he says gender-neutral tenure clock policies "appear to have effectively raised the tenure bar for women."

Though the California team focused on economists, he adds that other fields likely exhibit similar patterns.

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