'Sacrificing at the altar of tenure': Untenured assistant professors' work/life management

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Marjorie L. DeVault


Untenured, Assistant professors, Work/life management, Life management

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


Work/family scholars are increasingly paying attention to how professors negotiate work and family responsibilities. Research has been primarily about mothers' experiences and little exists about fathers' experiences managing work and family responsibilities or about professors without children. My research, which uses feminist theory and a symbolic interactionist perspective, extends previous work by examining how male and female assistant professors with and without children make sense of occupational characteristics and norms while creating their personal lives.

Both male and female professors in this study enjoyed the autonomy, flexibility, and engaging nature of their career. However their occupation also included a norm that work would be professors' only priority, either to get tenure or to be among the "stars" in their fields. Career norms and expectations organized how professors managed their work and personal lives, as did their personal life circumstances and gendered beliefs about family life. The women and men in this study strove to create both personal and professional lives that had meaning to them. To varying degrees, this involved either resisting or accommodating career norms and expectations. Work/family policies at these universities were helpful in the short term but did not mitigate the effects of internal and external occupational expectations. Participants employed a variety of work and personal life strategies to adhere to standards of professionalism and to meet work demands.

This research demonstrates how individuals are ultimately responsible for filling in the gaps between occupational expectations and the realities of their everyday lives, even when work/family policies are in place. It shows how men's experiences managing work and family responsibilities are similar to women's experiences. Men wished for more time with their families and struggled with an occupational expectation that they minimize their family life involvement. They were more likely than women, however, to have substantial household and childcare help from partners who were less involved in paid labor. This research also pushes this area of scholarship to consider professors' work/life management, not just work/family management. Even participants without children felt expected to make work their only priority and to delay substantial investment in their personal lives.


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