A number of sociological studies have proven that women in academia fall behind their male peers by (1) getting married and (2) having children. Claire Cain Miller’s 2014 article in The New York Times, “The Motherhood Penalty vs the Fatherhood Bonus” clarifies that the penalties women academics face on account of so-called private, domestic choices (to get married, to have children) are not matched by a neutral field but instead men are rewarded in their careers for the same so-called private domestic choices (to get married, to have children). This argument is spelled out in gruesome detail in Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower, co-written by Mary Ann Mason, Nicholas H. Wolfinger, and Marc Goulden (Rutgers UP, 2013). Mason has summarized the book’s argument in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Men, for instance, tend to occupy tenure-track jobs and more men obtain tenure than women. Though universities are under fierce pressure to increase faculty diversity, their attempt to satisfy this pressure does not threaten men’s dominance in secure, tenured positions. As Colleen Flaherty researched for her 2016 article in Inside Higher Ed, “most gains for underrepresented minority groups have been in the most precarious positions. That is, not on the tenure track.” Women and non-white faculty, that is, are hired into adjunct positions.
Not only do presumptively private choices (marriage, children) adversely affect women’s getting a job, getting tenure, getting published, and getting promoted, but the professional experiences of men and women are strikingly different. Cassandra M. Guarino and Victor M. H. Borden’s research, published in Research in Higher Education (, Volume 58, Issue 6, pp 672–694), surveyed over 19,000 faculty members before concluding that “women do more service work than their male colleagues” (cited from a summary of Guarino and Borden’s paper by Lara Rutherford-Morrison. I know this well myself. When I had far too many advisees, I was never thanked or offered service or teaching reductions. Nor did any of my colleagues or superiors ever initiate a conversation with me about why so many graduate students ended up as my mentees (I assure you I did not stand on a soapbox and solicit them. Many asked me in desperation. Many asked me through tears).
I write all of this because I woke up furious this morning about the standard academic response to salary compression. It is said, it has been said to me, I have heard it said blithely to groups of mostly female graduate students: To remain current in your salary–to not fall prey to salary compression–you simply have to apply for other jobs, get an offer, and then negotiate a counter offer.
Simply what? Look at the graphic I’ve attached to the top of this post. Add another child, a husband always away on work, grading, class prep, committee work, and five to ten graduate advisees and that was me, every day. (It is well known that part of what is killing working women in all fields is the so-called second shift of domestic work.) When, where, and how would I ever have found the time, energy, or mental acuity to apply for another job? And what if I had done so, received an offer, and my institution had not countered? I could never have moved my burgeoning family or my husband’s career for a few thousand dollars per year raise. I could barely stomach the thought and energy involved in changing childcare arrangments.
Thus, dear readers, I conclude that salary compression is yet another example of the academy’s anti-maternality, that special and specific form of misogyny that refuses to acknowledge all the studies to which I gestured in my opening paragraph, much less institute policy changes to ensure that women who are not only professionally punished for their so-called private choices (marriage, children) but also professionally punished for doing more service work than men might at least have a shot at a fair and equitable salary without having to play Russian Roulette on the job market with that one milliliter of energy they have left.