How parenthood contributes to gender gaps in academia

  1. Xiang Zheng
  2. Haimiao Yuan
  3. Chaoqun Ni  Is a corresponding author
  1. University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
  2. University of Iowa, United States


Being a parent has long been associated with gender disparities in academia. However, details of the mechanisms by which parenthood and gender influence academic career achievement and progression are not fully understood. Here, using data from a survey of 7,764 academics in North America and publication data from the Web of Science, we analyze gender differences in parenthood and academic achievements and explore the influence of work-family conflict and partner support on these gender gaps. Our results suggest that gender gaps in academic achievement are, in fact, 'parenthood gender gaps'. Specifically, we found significant gender gaps in all measures of academic achievement (both objective and subjective) in the parent group but not in the non-parent group. Mothers are more likely than fathers to experience higher levels of work-family conflict and to receive lower levels of partner support, contributing significantly to the gender gaps in academic achievement for the parent group. We also discuss possible interventions and actions for reducing gender gaps in academia.

Data availability

All data needed to evaluate the conclusions in the paper are present here and in the Supplementary Materials. Aggregated or de-identified data on variables used in this study is available on GitHub (

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Xiang Zheng

    University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-6619-5504
  2. Haimiao Yuan

    University of Iowa, Iowa City, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Chaoqun Ni

    University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-4130-7602


Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

  • Xiang Zheng
  • Chaoqun Ni

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Human subjects: The survey of this study was approved by the IRB board at the University of Iowa (IRB ID#201901776)IRB-02DHHS Registration # IRB00000100,Univ of Iowa,DHHS Federalwide Assurance # FWA00003007Below is the consent information from the approved IRB:You are invited to participate in a research project being conducted at the University of Iowa regarding the career development of researchers. The primary purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between marriage, parenthood, gender, and the career trajectories of researchers. We aim to understand whether, and to what degree, these factors are related to the professional development of researchers. This project will provide implications for future scientists about their work-life management and career development, as well as related stakeholders, for the purpose of creating a better environment that will facilitate the development of researchers' careers.If you agree to participate, we would like you to complete an online survey (found below). You are free to stop taking this survey if you prefer not to answer any question. It will take approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Confidentiality research data will be kept anonymous and secure (encrypted and stored in a locked file) for up to 10 years and will then be deleted.Taking part in this research study is entirely voluntary. If you do not wish to participate in this study, you are free to decline. You may also withdraw from this project at any time, without consequences or recrimination. You will NOT be asked for an explanation for your withdrawal. Should you choose to withdraw after finishing the survey, please advise the project manager or any member of the research team. In the case of early withdrawal from the study, data will be destroyed immediately.If you have any questions about this project, please contact Haimiao Yuan ( at the University of Iowa. If you have questions about the rights of research subjects, please contact the Human Subjects Office, 105 Hardin Library for the Health Sciences, 600 Newton Rd, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242-1098, (319) 335-6564, or e-mail Thank you very much for your consideration.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Helga Groll, eLife, United Kingdom

Publication history

  1. Received: March 24, 2022
  2. Accepted: July 12, 2022
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: July 13, 2022 (version 1)
  4. Accepted Manuscript updated: July 13, 2022 (version 2)
  5. Version of Record published: July 20, 2022 (version 3)


© 2022, Zheng et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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  1. Xiang Zheng
  2. Haimiao Yuan
  3. Chaoqun Ni
How parenthood contributes to gender gaps in academia
eLife 11:e78909.

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