I am frequently surprised by other people’s surprise. A new study finds female physician-researchers spend more of their time on parenting and household tasks in the early stages of their career than their male peers. Yet the study also finds that, comparatively, women doctors were more likely to have spouses or domestic partners employed full-time. Dr. Reshma Jagsi, an author of the study and associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Health System, believes the results shed light on why female physicians do not have the same career success as their male colleagues. Well, yes, in fact it does. But maybe not in the way she believes.

How the Study Worked

The team of researchers began by identifying 1,719 academic physician recipients of National Institutes of Health awards between the years of 2006 and 2009. They then sent out surveys and received responses from 1,049 of the doctors. In the survey, the team inquired whether respondents had children and the ages of any children. The team gathered information on whether the children required adult supervision or care and who provided that care during work hours (school, day care, family member, nanny or babysitter, spouse or domestic partner, or other). Next, the researchers determined the level of satisfaction each respondent felt regarding child care arrangements and asked what happened when a child became sick or school or institutional care closed or when other disruptions occurred: in such cases, who usually stays with the children? Respondents selected one option among seven choices: “I usually do," "My spouse or partner usually does," "My spouse or partner and I usually alternate," "A friend or neighbor usually does," "I usually bring my children to work," "A family member usually does," or "Other.” The researchers concluded by gathering more pertinent information, including details about the respondents’ age, specialty, and career, and set to work analyzing the data they had collected.

After crunching the numbers, what exactly did they discover? After making adjustments for work hours, spousal employment, and other factors, married or partnered women with children spent 8.5 more hours per week on domestic activities. Women were much more likely to have spouses or domestic partners who were employed full-time than men — 85.6 percent as compared to 44.9 percent. Finally, in the subgroup of those with full-time employed spouses/partners, the women were more likely to take time off during disruptions of usual child care arrangements than men (42.6 percent versus 12.4 percent).

“Medicine needs to be a profession in which both men and women can succeed and an environment in which women can be successful role models,” said Jagsi in a press release.

Seemingly, Jagsi believes equality among the sexes is a simple arithmetic equation while also believing women have no responsibility for the choices they make. First of all, women carry and give birth to children and men do not; add to that the fact that many couples experience a baby wanting Mommy more than Daddy. Sorry Doctor Jagsi, biology sometimes trumps human will. The physiological differences between women and men effectively means sexual equality is a mythological ideal. There may be legal equality and financial equality but any ideas of biological equality that women aspire to is not really fitting and should be replaced by a more encompassing idea of the value — and necessity — of sexual differences.

Second, the maintenance of a household with or without children is work and someone must be most responsible for that work. If a female doctor chooses a partner who is career-focused instead of choosing one who wants to devote his or her time to the care of a family, then that female doctor has freely staked her claim. When men choose partners willing to forego full-time careers in order to take responsibility for the home, such men willingly forego the benefits of an additional full-time salary as well as any other perks gained by a woman pursuing a full-time career. An adult accepts the fact that any partner is imperfect and any partnership comes ready-made with limitations.

"One might expect that within a highly educated Generation X population there would be a relatively even distribution of domestic labor,” Jagsi commented.

Plenty of women who are not highly educated choose spouses/partners who are willing to take a lesser job or no job in order to perform the lion’s share of household work. Granted, such a partner might not always appear very glamorous to the rest of the world, but how glamorous are many women who stay home to do the necessary, challenging, and important work of raising children and maintaining a home? And a relatively even distribution of labor is exactly that. Given the fact that children may prefer their mother at certain stages, at certain times, a true and loving partnership of adults would naturally accommodate that preference when necessary. Choices have consequences in the real world, and no one, not even "high-achieving young physician researchers," can escape these facts of life.

 

Source: Shruti J, Griffith KA, DeCastro R, Stewart A, Ubel P, Jagsi R. Gender Differences in Time Spent on Parenting and Domestic Responsibilities by High-Achieving Young Physician-Researchers. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014.