Why a career in STEM is especially difficult for parents

Belinda Luscombe for Time

The future, as anyone who has sought career counseling in the last 20 years knows, is in STEM. Good jobs in science, technology, engineering and math are plentiful, the common wisdom goes, as opposed to falling opportunities in media, factory work and retail. But a new study suggests that STEM careers might be particularly tough for at least one category of employee: parents.

Almost half of new mothers and a quarter of new fathers leave full-time STEM careers after adopting or bearing a child, and do not return by the time the child starts school, the study found. While mothers generally leave within the first three years of their first child’s arrival (42%), the fathers stick it out a little longer, with only 15% leaving in the same time period, rising to 23% by the time the child is eight.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of National Association of Sciences, is the first systematic, longitudinal examination of the paths of STEM professionals who become parents, and how those paths diverge according to gender. It examined the career trajectories of more than 4,000 scientists and engineers who were employed full-time in a STEM field in 2003 and compared those who had at least one child between 2003 and 2006 with those who remained childless until 2010.

To learn more, read "STEM Careers Are Even Harder On Parents Than We Thought, Study Finds" from Time.