Parenthood and Inequality in Science

Denmark is as a leading scientific player worldwide; it is among the top-5 OECD countries in terms of per capita spending on R&D and the country with the highest number of researchers per 1,000 employees. Maintaining this position as a scientific and technological leader needs continuous investments in the human resources involved in the process of knowledge and technology production. As a small country, it is imperative to be able to utilize the full potential of the local labor force, ensuring that all groups are equally able to participate in research and innovation activities.

Scandinavian countries are often praised for their high rate of women participation in the workforce and their generous policies in support of families. However, Denmark is no longer a strong outlier in terms of gender equality compared to other countries. For example, the general gender pay gap is stable at around 15-20%, similar to the United Kingdom and the United States. Moreover, while Danish women are achieving increasing educational levels and are actively participating in the labor market, very few manage to attain the top of the hierarchy in companies. Finally, while gender norms are generally perceived to be more egalitarian in Scandinavia than elsewhere, it appears that in reality gender attitudes in Denmark are quite traditional when it comes to female participation in the labor force after having children. This suggests that scientific production in Denmark may be facing a problem stemming from a suboptimal participation of women in the scientific workforce. 

Internationally, in the last century we have witnessed a considerable gender convergence in the general labor market: in science, however, the situation is far from ideal. In academia, there is a disproportionate lack of representation of women in most scientific disciplines, in particular in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) fields and especially at the upper end of the profession.

Women academics often face difficult tensions between the two ‘greedy institutions’ of family and academia. Several studies show that women tend to suffer lower productivity, slower promotion rates, and less attractive career options when they have children (Ceci and Williams 2011). Because of the difficulty of gathering data in this area, and the empirical challenge of disentangling personal preferences from actual structural constraints, we have much less evidence on the possible mechanisms at play, such as the family context, which may be supportive or unsupportive to women academics’ aspirations. In order to address these issues, in this project we will focus on the dual influence of children and partners on academic productivity.

This project is supported by the Carlsberg Foundation through a Young Researcher Fellowship with a grant of 4.4 million Danish kroner. Go to the project website at Carlsbergfondet.

Please direct any inquiries, including expression of interest for a PhD and Postdoc position, to Associate Professor Valentina Tartari, principal investigator of this project.


The page was last edited by: Department of Strategy and Innovation // 02/09/2024