Balancing Family & Academic Work

The work of faculty is—by its very nature—virtually unbounded. In addition to teaching classes, advising students, and serving on departmental committees, faculty members are expected to keep abreast of developments in their fields of specialization by engaging in original research and scholarship, participating in activities of one or more professional societies, and to read the latest research studies produced by their colleagues. There is always a new question to ask, further analysis to complete, or another issue to discuss.

An academic career demands an intense—some academics would say total—commitment. But faculty members, like anyone else, are not defined entirely by their professional pursuits. They are members of families with obligations to care for and devote time to their loved ones. Finding the appropriate balance between an academic career and family responsibilities has been especially difficult for women, who in our society continue to perform the bulk of family work: childrearing, domestic chores, and care for family members with special needs. The AAUP's efforts to address the special challenge of making academic careers more compatible with participation in family life proceed from the Statement of Principles on Family Responsibilities and Academic Work (2001). To encourage implementation of the policies and practices set forth in that document, the AAUP has developed this website as a resource for both faculty and institutions.

What Colleges and Universities Should Know about Work/Family Issues

  • The average age for receipt of a Ph.D. is 33 placing the tenure year at age 40. Women are more likely to receive the Ph.D. at a slightly older median age (34.1 years as compared to 32.8 years for men) Thus the period of most intensive work to establish an academic career coincides with prime child-rearing years. Because they are more likely to carry the burden of child-rearing duties, women are often forced to make a choice between an all - consuming professional career or having children - a choice men are not generally forced to make. This is a significant source of inequities in faculty status, promotion, tenure, and salary.
  • Work and family conflicts for faculty is a serious problem. The Mapping Project Survey conducted by Professor Robert Drago and colleagues at Penn State University found that work/family problems among faculty arise partly from "bias avoidance" (a term that defines behavior on the part of faculty members that leads them to avoid family commitments they would otherwise make, fail to fulfill family commitments, or spend time on strategies to hide parenthood and care-giving from others at work).
  • The research shows that work/family policies are underutilized, as faculty perceive it may not be professionally prudent to use such policies. (See D.E. Friedman., C. Rimsky., and A. Johnson. 1996. College and University Reference Guide to Work-Family Programs. New York, NY: Families and Work Institute.)

What you can do

See more resources on family and academic work.