Dr. Mom may work less than other female physicians

Reuters Health - In two-physician couples, women with kids work fewer hours than women without children, a recent U.S. study suggests.

Parenthood doesn’t appear to influence hours for men in these couples, however.

“Before these couples have children, male and female physicians work similar amounts of hours,” said senior study author Dr. Anupam Jena of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“With the arrival of children, female physicians reduce their work hours by nearly 20 percent, or ten hours, per week,” Jena said by email. “Male physicians don’t reduce their hours at all.”

For the study, researchers estimated weekly work hours for married, dual-physician couples based on nationally representative data collected by the U.S. census for approximately 3 million households annually.

They included data for individuals in couples where both partners reported working as a physician. They excluded same-sex couples and physicians under age 25 or over 50, in order to focus on gender differences in work hours during childbearing years.

They also excluded parents of newborns, to focus on changes in work hours beyond any temporary leave or reduced hours in the first year after babies were born.

The final analysis included survey data collected from 2000 to 2015 on 4,934 married couples.

Women were 38 years old on average, while men were typically around 39 years old.

Among couples without children, men worked an average of 57 hours a week and women worked about 52 hours, researchers report in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Compared to women without kids, women with toddlers aged 1 to 2 years worked about 41.5 hours, more than 10 hours less, the study found.

Men with toddlers worked almost two hours less than men without kids, but the difference wasn’t big enough to rule out the possibility that it was due to chance.

As children got older, there still wasn’t a meaningful difference between work hours for men with and without kids. For women, meanwhile, the lag in hours with children persisted.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how parenthood might influence work hours for physicians or other married couples.

It’s possible that women might also gravitate toward specialties that demand fewer hours in order to make time for children, the researchers suggest. Social expectations for women to reduce work hours to care for children might also explain the results, the authors note.

“Our identity and professional roles are highly socialized,” said Patricia Davidson, a workforce researcher and dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore.

Women are by far the greatest proportion of caregivers, and this role can also include a wide variety of activities, Davidson, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

The different impact of parenthood for men and women might reflect differing perspectives on work, she said.

“There is also potentially a feminized view of working where getting the work done is more important than the trophy of hours worked,” Davidson said.

Parenthood’s disproportionate impact on women’s work hours might also mask unequal access to management positions that come with added responsibilities.

“There is also potential that the extra work hours were related to leadership and administrative roles to which it is documented women have less access,” Davidson said.

SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, online August 21, 2017.