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Childbirth and childcare have a large impact on women’s careers. Research shows that unequal childcare responsibilities slow women’s career progress, resulting in a persistent drop in earnings. In an attempt to improve the situation, many firms have adopted gender-neutral family policies in order to encourage a more equal division of labour when it comes to childcare, and help solve the gender wage gap and the promotion gap. The impact of these policies on men and women’s labour market outcomes, however, is unknown. Using data from U.S. universities that adopted gender-neutral tenure clock-stopping policies, Antecol et al. (2018) analyze the impact that gender-neutral policies have on men and women’s career outcomes.

The researchers find that these policies led to higher initial tenure rates among men and lower initial tenure rates among women, widening the promotion gap.


In academia, tenure evaluation is largely based on the quality and number of publications produced by an assistant professor after seven years (when they typically apply for tenure). However, because having a child limits the time available to spend on research, many institutions have adopted “clock-stopping” policies that essentially pause the tenure clock while that person is engaging in childcare for newborns. Historically, these options were only offered to female faculty members. But, more recently, to support men who want to be involved in child rearing, the policies at some schools have been made gender neutral—applying to any parent at the time a child comes into the home.

To understand the impact of this gender-neutral clock-stopping policy, the researchers gathered data on tenure policies from 50 U.S. economics departments. The clock-stopping policies in these departments were either intended to be gender-neutral (“pause” for both men and women) or female-only. The researchers matched this data with information on the career progression of assistant professors who went up for tenure at these schools between 1985 and 2004. They then estimated how the probability of tenure changes for men and women at an institution with a gender-neutral policy versus a female-only policy. They controlled for differences in tenure institution characteristics, such as faculty size and the gender composition of faculty, as well as individual characteristics, such as an individual’s educational background.


A male assistant professor’s tenure probability increased by 19.4 percentage points when a clock stop is used, whereas a female assistant professor’s tenure probability decreased by 22.4 percentage points. This gap is primarily attributed to men having more time to conduct research and publish; men tend to use the leave period as a time to work whereas women tend to spend it caring for their child. More specifically, the additional time gives men the ability to resubmit rejected papers to top journals and to take more risks with regards to where they submit their work.

Indeed, the researchers found that men exposed to a gender-neutral clock-stopping policy had 0.56 more top publications than men who went up for tenure at the same institution before the policy was implemented. There is also evidence that gender-neutral policies affect family planning. For example, fertility rates for junior faculty were higher among universities with clock-stopping policies than those without.

This research indicates that these policies may positively impact male tenure rates, but negatively impact female tenure rates due to the unequal distribution of childcare responsibilities.


  • Childcare responsibilities disproportionately fall on women and thus negatively impact family-policy effectiveness–Childbirth has a larger impact on women’s productivity at work. Because of these gender-specific productivity losses, extending the tenure clock for both men and women does not necessarily equalize the playing field as intended. In fact, this research indicates that it has the opposite effect. Therefore, it’s important for institutions that implement these types of policies to conduct follow-up studies in order to determine if the policies are having the desired effect, or if they’re exacerbating the problem (e.g. the promotion gap in academia). In short, equal is not necessarily equitable.
  • If norms surrounding childcare do not change, women need a tenure extension–Mothers are generally less productive at work during the first few months of a child’s life due to at-home demands. Providing female assistant professors with a longer tenure clock after giving childbirth might alleviate the gender gap in tenure. However, this same policy could also discourage men from taking leave and becoming more involved in care work. Ultimately, norms surrounding childbirth and childcare need to change for gender equality to be accomplished in the workplace.


“Equal but Inequitable: Who Benefits from Gender-Neutral Tenure Clock Stopping Policies?


Heather Antecol, Kelly Bedard, and Jenna Stearns


University of California, Santa Barbara


American Economic Review


September 2018




Research brief prepared by

Heather Sarsons