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Childbearing and (female) research productivity: a personnel economics perspective on the leaky pipeline


Despite the fact that childbearing is time-consuming (i.e., associated with a negative resource effect), we descriptively find female researchers with children in business and economics to be more productive than female researchers without children. Hence, female researchers with children either manage to overcompensate the negative resource effect associated with childbearing by working harder (positive incentive effect), or only the most productive female researchers decide to go for a career in academia and have children at the same time (positive self-selection effect). Our first descriptive evidence on the timing of parenthood among more than 400 researchers in business and economics from Austria, Germany and the German-speaking part of Switzerland hints at the latter being the case: only the most productive female researchers with children dare to self-select (or are selected) into an academic career. Our results have important policy implications when it comes to reducing the “leaky pipeline” in academia.

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  1. 1.

    An alternative explanation might be that appointment committees in fact use higher hurdles for female researchers with children than for those without. While we do not rule out that occasionally such discriminatory hiring processes may exist, we expect them not to be widespread and hence conclude that if we observe positive productivity differences, these will be the results of a positive self-selection effect.

  2. 2.

    However, there is evidence—at least outside academia—that wages do not only reflect productivity differences but may also reflect differences in social norms—particularly when comparing wages of males and females as shown by Janssen et al. (2013 ). But of course, a large part of descriptive differences in the gender wage gap is due to differences in labor attachment, in career choices or in working time patterns as shown in an overview for example by Kolesnikova and Liu (2011).

  3. 3.

    As a robustness check we also measured career age by the number of years since obtaining the PhD (see e.g., Fiedler et al. 2008; Chlosta et al. 2010) and find our results to be robust to this alteration.

  4. 4.

    Since Breuninger (2012), working on the same data set, detected “research abroad” (defined as a research stay of at least one month at a foreign research institution) to be related to research productivity, we also include it as a control variable. 71 % of the researchers in our data set stayed at a foreign research institution for at least one month. With the same reasoning, we further control for a researcher’s attendance of a formal mentoring program, since Muschallik and Pull (2012) have found publication productivity to differ between researchers who attended or still attend a formal mentoring program. Five percent of researchers in our dataset attended or still attend a formal mentoring program.

  5. 5.

    Flaherty et al. ( 2013 ), e.g., show that the research output at the time of the tenure review of faculty members who stopped their tenure clock is not significantly different from non-users and they conclude that “stopping the tenure clock polices” are effective for leveling out the playing field for the tenure decision. However, they also find that faculty members stopping the clock suffer from lower incomes as stopping the tenure clock might signal a lower commitment.

  6. 6.

    Interestingly, a handicap-system favoring female researchers with children would not reduce incentives for the others, but would in fact restore incentives for all researchers by reducing contestant heterogeneity—as has been shown theoretically for appointment tournaments (see Chlosta and Pull 2010) and empirically for tournaments in a business context (see Backes-Gellner and Pull 2013).


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Correspondence to Uschi Backes-Gellner.

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Joecks, J., Pull, K. & Backes-Gellner, U. Childbearing and (female) research productivity: a personnel economics perspective on the leaky pipeline. J Bus Econ 84, 517–530 (2014).

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  • Research productivity
  • Women in academia
  • Childbearing
  • Resources
  • Self-selection

JEL Classification

  • L23
  • J14
  • J16