Robert B. Townsend, deputy director of the AHA, surveyed 2,240 associate and full professors of history and released the findings in this month's Perspectives on History. Female historians who were either married or had been married at the time of the 2010 survey took an average of 7.8 years to move from associate to full professor. Women who had never married were promoted in an average of 6.7 years. Almost two times as many of the female full professors listed their status as divorced or separated, which suggests their professional obligations were somehow less compatible with marriage than their male colleagues. They were also more likely than their male colleagues to have never wed at all. Conversely, male historians who were or had been married advanced in 5.9 years. The unmarried man took 6.4 years, a bit longer.On its face, that makes perfect sense. More free time = more work done. But are there limits to the association of leisure and productivity, given that leisure is by definition (old definition, I know) not productive, and production is not leisure?
For example, let us delve into the annals of self-absorption and consider why I have been far less productive so far during my year of having no professional or familial responsibilities and sponging off my husband in a land of swaying palm trees than I ever was when I had to perform the many menial obligations of graduate school, like teaching and conference organizing and appearing, sober and dressed, to weekly workshops, while my husband was discharging his law student obligations and we both lived in the icy climes of New England? Obviously, I could just be an outstandingly lazy person, an n=1 in the study testing responses to unrestrained leisure. And while I admit some shortcomings in diligence, past evidence does not suggest that I'm a layabout, but more like a generally energetic Lockean squirrel that nonetheless hibernates when task performance is obstructed by the onset of winter or the acorns seem really far away.
And in general, if minimizing domestic and professional concerns leads to academic productivity, how do we explain the surprisingly long time-to-degree of so many graduate students, many (most?) of whom are not married, and have few domestic obligations to discharge for themselves? Washing one's single plate and changing the linens on the futon once a year is hardly keeping most grad students from completion. Shouldn't they be racing along compared to all the female academics who have to juggle babies and publications? But their time-to-degree (eight years) is exactly the same as the time-to-promotion of married women, which means that they spend 5-6 years on the dissertation alone while having fewer teaching responsibilities (TAing being less work than teaching one's own class), thereby accomplishing less than the female married prof after eight years. Free time doesn't account for this discrepancy.
But perhaps this is explained in the statistic about unmarried men taking longer to promote than married men, who reach the finish line faster than anyone. Perhaps leisure as freedom from professional and domestic responsibility is not all that compatible with productivity, because the single grad student is arguably the most leisured of all these categories, and yet the least productive. Singledom with its associated loneliness and social disrepute might hold people up a bit, but probably not much, because if having a partner is all the difference, I'd be in productivity nirvana right now with both a husband and free time, and yet the magics are not having their effect. It seems more likely that this situation, and not free time, has all kinds of productivity-boosting power for men. The impetus to work would then not be unhurried leisure per se, but rather almost its opposite - external pressure of a not undesired variety. (As opposed to variety whereby the Persians whipped their soldiers to face the Spartans.) But, all things being equal, this still doesn't explain why no domestic situation - determined singledom, marriage, divorce - puts women on equal footing with men. Are there really that many diversity seats to fill on committees?
*I'm confused by the measure of productivity they've chosen. What is time to promotion supposed to indicate exactly? Is there a standard timeline for it, or does it happen whenever a certain amount of post-tenure productivity has been demonstrated, assuming the point here is to measure post-tenure work? Or pre-tenure but post-hiring work? I don't have access to the full study, but anyone in the know want to clarify?
UPDATE: This point is not related to the relationship between leisure and productivity, but I felt it would be remiss not to note the vicarious Linda Hirschman-esque tone of this claim:
"If men can continue to find wives who will abandon their professional aspirations to assist their husbands, well, that's it in a nutshell...The degree of backsliding in the current generation is stunning."Well, ladies, what shall we do under such harsh chastisements? Shall we stage a Lysistrata to get tenure? Or, if it's too late for that and this situation has already come to pass, perhaps we should take Caterina Sforza's attitude to her children's captors as our model for spousal relations?