A man and woman push strollers in opposite directions with an "unequal" sign in between them

The Impacts of Parenthood Are Not Equal

By Shelley O’Brien, MBA, Chief Marketing Officer at AWIS

Research shows that women who become mothers are offered fewer opportunities and earn less over their careers. Men who become fathers do not experience these severe consequences. Consider these data points from the Mothers in Science’ 2020 pre-COVID-19 global survey* “Impact of Parenthood on Career Progression in STEMM”:


Three bar graphs: Mothers reported that their competence was more often questioned, they were offered fewer opportunities, and they were more likely to leave their careers than fathers in STEMM


Mothers are perceived as less dedicated employees and less competent due to implicit bias and structural problems that have nothing to do with motherhood. For example, as the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, women carry more of the burden for childcare and eldercare than men. Mothers require support from their partner at home, flexible workplace policies, and affordable and accessible childcare options. However, not everyone has access to these resources.

To be healthy and successful at work, women need to be able to 1) seek medical attention and informed advice and 2) to be able to make decisions about their reproductive health, including the choice about whether to have, and when to have, children. In science-oriented careers, particularly those in higher education where tenure may depend on stepped and timed advancement, the impact of an unplanned pregnancy can be especially significant.

Since men do not experience these challenges, any laws that interfere with women’s reproductive health, including the timing of pregnancy, unfairly target women — especially underprivileged women who do not have access to birth control, proper healthcare, transportation, and/or finances to obtain the care they need. To support women’s careers, we need to support their right to choose.

Related Studies and Resources:

  • The unequal impact of parenthood in academia: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abd1996 (American Association for the Advancement of Science)
  • One factor explains much of the dearth of women in math-based fields: https://www.americanscientist.org/article/when-scientists-choose-motherhood (American Scientist)
  • The changing career trajectories of new parents in STEM https://www.pnas.org/content/116/10/4182 (PNAS – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America)

With thanks to Mothers in Science for their permission to share data related to their 2020 survey*, “Impact of Parenthood on Career Progression in STEMM”

*The Mothers in Science survey “Impact of parenthood on career progression in STEMM” was conducted between September 15th and December 31st, 2020. All responses correspond to the participants’ situation prior to COVID-19, and therefore, do not reflect the additional pressures brought on by the pandemic. The answers are based on self-report. A total of 8,930 participants, including mothers, fathers and non-parents, completed the survey. The study brings together survey participants from 128 countries, although the following countries are over-represented: the US, France, UK, Germany and Australia. As expected, women are also over-represented in the survey, which can be common in surveys related to women and caregiving issues. The survey was designed and led by Mothers in Science and conducted in partnership with INWES, Washington University St Louis, Parent in Science, Femmes & Sciences and 500 Women Scientists. Mothers in Science is analyzing the data in collaboration with a team of statisticians from the Universities of Grenoble, France and University of Toulouse, France.

Register for our What’s Next webinar on Thursday, November 18, 2021 featuring Dr. Isabel Torres, CEO and co-founder of Mothers in Science.