First Lady Michelle Obama recently spoke to the new rules put out by the National Science Foundation that are designed to make it easier for scientists – “especially women – to balance work and family.”

The new rules allow men and women to delay or suspend research grants for up to a year to tend to “urgent family needs.”  Now “family” does mean your children or parents who may be ill, etc. However, the main thrust of the rules does seem to stem from the idea that if science made it easier for women in the field to become mothers we would see more women in the upper echelons of science.

I have to wonder if the new rules treat men and women parents and non-parents equally. More likely than not, rules to help “balance work and family” are designed to help those who are parents, and not really those who do not have children.

Gen X scientist types with no children may not too keen on the new rules. Recent research on Gen X from the Center for Work-Life Policy  indicates that over 60% of childless Xer women and 40% of Xer men feel that their colleagues with children are given more latitude with flexible work arrangements.  As a childless female professional in the study said, “The company promotes work-life balance, but I think it’s slanted toward parents.”

As Sylvia Ann Hewlett writes, choosing not to parent is becoming “the new normal” for Generation X.  As I lay out in my post questioning Hewlett’s theory that Gen Xers choosing not to parent because it is a “creeping non-choice,” the research indicates that over 40% of women ages 41-45 did not have children, and by age 40, 36% of Gen X men also don’t have children.

Whatever the motives might truly boil down to, I do agree with Hewlett that real and perceived “inequities between parents and non-parents seed a growing resentment that employers cannot afford to ignore,” and that “employers need to make sure that childless Xers aren’t relegated to second place in the war for work-life balance.”

Seems this applies to the science community as well, and hopefully this new “rule” is not just another example of inequities of parents and non-parents in the workplace–this time only in the scientific community.

Childfree Gen Xers, how have you experienced workplace inequities? Childfree scientists of any age out there, what do you think of the new “balance work and family rules?”

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