Chapter Four


When it comes to having children, we believe that there are three kinds of women: those who know with certainty they want to have children no matter what, those who have decided that they don’t want children, and those who are open to the idea of having children but are also comfortable with the idea of not having children. We will not venture a guess as to the relative size of the three groups; for our purposes, it does not matter. Of course, we understand that sometimes women change groups, but mostly you know which type you are.

For the woman who knows she wants to have children, the issues are when, how many, and, for some of you, with whom. This chapter

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focuses on these questions. There are no easy answers, but we will take you through the possibilities. If you are in this first group, then you need to think about having children as a goal, in the same way that you think about finishing that dissertation or landing that tenure-track job as a goal. For you, the next question is whether you are willing to have children without a partner. Many single women in academia adopt children or go the route of the anonymous sperm donor. If single parenthood doesn’t seem like the thing for you and you don’t yet have a partner, then add “find a partner” to your list of goals as well. One of our colleagues pursued finding a partner and having a child with a similar strategy to that which she used to get tenure. When writing her book, she set goals on how many pages she would get done in a week. When looking for a partner, she set targets for how many dates she would have in a given weekend, giving each man no more than an hour of her time. It may seem cold blooded, but women with PhDs are usually highly motivated and pressed for time. If children are important to you, there is no reason you should be sitting around waiting for Prince or Princess Charming to show up on your doorstep, just as you are not sitting around waiting for your dissertation to write itself.

For those of you in the second group, not having children at all is a perfectly acceptable option, and you will find yourself in good company in academia. Consider the flip side of the Mason and Goulden statistics we quoted earlier in the book: 50 percent of women in the sciences and 62 percent of those in the humanities and social sciences do not have children at tenure time. While some may be using the “tenure first” strategy, many will remain permanently childless. The number of childless women appears to be higher at the highest ranks of academia. While Kristen was at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, roughly two-thirds of the women who were fellows had no children. When Kristen asked a tenured professor at Harvard with no children to provide the names of some colleagues who were mothers, the faculty member scratched her head and replied, “I can’t think of any tenured women with children here.” But if you are so sure you don’t want to have children, then why did you pick up this book? Perhaps you are actually undecided. Or perhaps you have been convinced that it is impossible to do both. Remember: it is not impossible to do both.

Which brings us to the third group: you can imagine your life either with children or without. Do you currently have a life partner? Check in with him or her. Are your feelings towards children shared by your partner? If not, take the time to have that conversation. It is always better to have that conversation sooner rather than later. After the conversation, some of you will move into the first category, while others will have decided that children are not in your future. Still solidly in the maybe category? Read on, but the timing issue is easier for you. For you, waiting until after tenure might be a good choice, but note that there are substantial psychological, as well as monetary, costs of infertility.

Published by Rowman & Littlefield. All Rights Reserved.

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