Academic mothers as ideal workers in the USA and Finland

Ollilainen, M. (2019). "Academic mothers as ideal workers in the USA and Finland." Equality Diversity and Inclusion 38(4): 417-429.

The purpose of this paper is to explore how women academics experience academic motherhood in the USA and Finland, how they time their pregnancy in an academic career, and the ways in which the different policy environments and academic opportunity structures in each country shape the management of academic work and care work during maternity leave. Design/methodology/approach Data collection involved a snowball, convenience sample of semi-structured, long interviews with 67 academic mothers, 33 in Finland and 34 in the USA. Recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed for emerging themes. Findings In both countries, women academics made fertility decisions by carefully deliberating their access to maternity leave, age-related concerns and the perception of job security. In Finland, the insecurity of fixed-term contracts and intensification of the ideal worker norm shaped fertility decisions and leave activities despite generous work-family policies. The US mothers' timing of pregnancy was influenced by concerns of age-related infertility more than career risks. Women in both countries felt pressure to maintain presence at work even while they were on leave. Originality/value The paper addresses a paucity of comparative studies about motherhood (and parenthood) in the academe, an increasingly central question for today's academic workforce.

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