Don't blame the children

The main explanation I've heard from readers for why women had higher rates of job seeking than men is that those women are mothers. I'm not really convinced. "Parenting" isn't a choice in the postgraduation status question, so I suspect it would be lumped into "Other." But let's assume for a moment that motherhood is the major factor in the higher frequency of job-seeking among women vs. men in fields like Chemistry. Why might that be? I can think of two possibilities:

  1. Expecting mothers feel pressured to report that they're looking for work, even if they're planning to stay home and change diapers.
  2. Employers, including advisors of "postgraduation study," don't want to hire mothers.1

If it's reason 1, why are chemists more likely to feel that pressure than physicists? If it's reason 2, why are the geosciences hiring moms, but the computer sciences aren't?2

I can't completely rule out motherhood as a factor – information on parenthood isn't in the tables I've looked through.3 Still, I'd guess that the primary cause of the gender gap is something else. If you have a more convincing argument, or some other hypothesis, I'm all ears.

1: This happens. I knew a chemistry post-doc who quietly told her fellow women in the lab that she was pregnant and didn't want the unsupportive boss to know. I also knew a woman who took a job in a lab she didn't really want to work in because she had been pregnant while job-seeking and she was afraid she wouldn't get other offers. And then there are attitudes like Isis the Scientist encountered.

2: Yep, I just skipped over the "dangerous chemicals" problem. I'm sure that has some sort of impact in Chemistry. The trouble with this explanation is that this gap exists in fields, like computer sciences, that don't have similar occupational hazards.

3: Marriage status is reported, but that doesn't tell you about parenthood or family size.