Marriage, children cause more burnout for female physicians
Adding the role of mother also increases the pressure on women physicians at work. Women with kids earn less than men—11% less when married without children, plus another 14% less for having one child and 22% less for having more than one child.[vi] Women physicians in academia with children report decreased institutional support, including less secretarial support. These physicians published less and reported lower career satisfaction.[vii]
On top of that, really there is no “good” time for a physician to have a baby: pregnancy before, during, and after medical training each bring its own series of obstacles, including time off from education, social isolation and the physical and emotional stress of work schedules.
During residency, women may face resentment from peers and supervisors who have to cover missed shifts due to pregnancy or childbearing related time-off. If a woman chooses to wait until after training to have a baby, she may face difficulty in conceiving due to advancing maternal age or health issues, may be passed over for advancement on the job and may face a conflict about taking time off for maternity leave, with many new moms reporting pressure to get back on the job sooner than they would prefer.
Faced with all of these challenges, some women in medicine are choosing to defer or avoid childbearing all together, with 25% of women physicians reporting no children, compared to only 9% of men doctors.
While choosing not to get married or have kids is one approach to managing role strain, there are other options to maintain a healthy relationship and family:
1. Pick your partner carefully and get a prenuptial agreement. While no one enters into a marriage expecting to get divorced, the reality is that women physicians are at higher risk for divorce than men physicians, and the rate of divorce increases with the number of hours that women physicians work.[viii] With a doctor’s potential for high earnings, many divorce attorneys see dollar signs when retained to represent a divorce involving a physician. Women physicians need to protect themselves by planning ahead and obtaining a pre-nup well before the wedding day. It’s not romantic, but it’s absolutely necessary.
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2. Communicate. Communication between women and their partners is essential to minimizing role strain. In particular, specifically defining roles and responsibilities—who does what around the house—has been shown to be helpful in reducing burnout in women, especially if done before children come into the picture. [ix]