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Opted Out of STEM Post-Kids

After having a child, a number of parents working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) change jobs or even leave their fields, Science Careers reports.

Erin Cech from the University of Michigan and Mary Blair-Loy from the University of California, San Diego, used longitudinal survey data to follow a sample of initially childfree STEM PhDs through their careers as they had kids. As they reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, the duo found that 43 percent of new mothers and 23 percent of new fathers leave full-time employment in STEM between four and seven years of having a child.

Some new mothers find part-time work in STEM, though the researchers add that those positions often pay less, come without benefits, and have little room for advancement.

Cech and Blair-Loy argue that changes to parental leave policies at governmental and organizational levels could help retain parents, as could more flexible organizational policies for caregivers.

The University of Kansas's Donna Ginther notes at Science Careers that other factors likely contribute to parents' decisions to leave. "Is it the full story? Of course it's not," adds the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Anna Kaatz. "But it's more information. It leads us to say, 'OK, let's challenge academia and other sectors to get some hard numbers about reasons for attrition.'"