The Specter of Motherhood: Culture and the Production of Gendered Career Aspirations in Science and Engineering
Thébaud S, Taylor CJ. The Specter of Motherhood: Culture and the Production of Gendered Career Aspirations in Science and Engineering. Gender & Society. 2021;35(3):395-421. doi:10.1177/08912432211006037
Abstract: Why are young women less likely than young men to persist in academic science and engineering? Drawing on 57 in-depth interviews with PhD students and postdoctoral scholars in the United States, we describe how, in academic science and engineering, motherhood is constructed in opposition to professional legitimacy, and as a subject of fear, repudiation, and public controversy. We call this the “specter of motherhood.” This specter disadvantages young women and amplifies anticipatory concerns about combining an academic career with motherhood. By specifying (1) the content of cultural discourses about motherhood in academic workplaces and (2) the processes by which these ideas circulate, produce disadvantage, and inform young, childless scientists and engineers’ career plans, our findings offer novel insight into mechanisms contributing to inequality in academic careers.