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UMass sociologists challenge parental leave myth

flickr/dailycollegian

Sociological researchers at the University of Massachusetts recently published their findings in the winter edition of the academic journal, “Fathering,” seeking to examine myths regarding the differing uses of paid parental leave at universities.

Titled “Work-Time, Housework, Carework, and Work-Life Balance: An Assessment of Faculty at the University of Massachusetts,” the study investigates whether or not the assumption that “men take unfair advantage of parental leave” holds true, according to a press release.

In their study, UMass authors Jennifer Lundquist and Joya Misra along with University of Maryland’s KerryAnn O’Meara challenged the belief that men abuse their paid parental leave time in an unfair way, calling the idea a “myth.”

“Critics of gender-neutral parental leave systems have claimed that male faculty are a greater threat to exploit the system,” the release said, adding that “they are more likely to have female spouses who stay home full-time, or only work part-time, to raise their children.”

However, the study found that those accusations are not supported by substantial data, according to the release.

Using surveys, focus groups and qualitative one-on-one interviews, researchers compiled data that revealed that UMass faculty members did not fit the profile of those that critics believe take advantage of the system, the release said.

Sample data revealed that a significant number of male faculty members at UMass did not take any parental leave at all. According to the release, the portion of the sample that did take their leave either did not have a spouse who regularly stayed home full-time or their spouse was a breastfeeding mother.

The release added that faculty members who did not take any parental leave believed they would be seen as lazy workers or as researchers who took the time off to further their own research rather than assist in childcare.

The findings also indicate that both men and women in the sciences and mathematics departments (STEM) were at the bottom of the list as least likely to take leave, the release said.

“Many STEM disciplines are still male-faculty dominated,” Lundquist said in the release, “and our participants described informal departmental cultures which operate on the outdated assumption that faculty have a stay-at-home partner to provide support.”

While acknowledging that the system is not perfect, Lundquist believes simple fixes can be made to the framework already in place, according to the release. Lundquist claims that the system is currently grounded in beliefs that are no longer true.

“The outdated notion of a worker with no care responsibilities doesn’t fit the experience of most academics,” Misra said in the release. “Leave policies of this type have the potential to reconfigure academic work more broadly — to the benefit of all faculty and their family members.”

 

Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at jokerman@student.umass.edu.

 

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