How being a mom affects female dentists' work habits

2009 10 28 09 40 23 4 Woman Dentist 70 V2

Do female dentists cut back their hours after becoming mothers? Do their contributions to their household incomes affect their work schedules?

A poster presentation at the American Academy for Dental Research (AADR) meeting last week in Tampa, FL, answered these and other questions about female dentists' working habits.

The Delta Dental of Iowa Foundation funded the research.

By 2020, an estimated 30% of U.S. dentists will be female, according to the study authors. Other countries have shown an inverse relationship between the number of female dentists and the full-time equivalents of the profession.

“Women gravitate toward nonsolo practices. ...”
— Raymond A. Kuthy, DDS, University of

"We wanted to see if there are factors we can look at to understand the needs and wants of women dentists," Raymond Kuthy, DDS, aprofessor at the University of Iowa's department of preventive and community dentistry, told "We know that traditionally men work full time until retirement age but women take time off for child rearing."

What happens after?

Dr. Kuthy and his colleagues wanted to determine the number of hours that female dentists in Iowa worked weekly, with full time defined as 32 or more hours per week. They considered whether factors such as minor children (any child younger than age 18) and percent contribution to the household income had an influence on the number of hours worked.

Their sampling frame included all active Iowa dentists (2009); the source used was the Iowa Dentist Tracking System (IDTS). The study only represents female dentists who responded to the survey.

In February 2011, the researchers sent postcards followed by a 28-question survey to all dentists in the IDTS. The surveys were coded so that select demographic (such as birth state), educational (such as dental school attended), and other practice information from the IDTS could be appended to the findings. A second mailing was sent approximately three weeks later.

In total, 192 of 304 (63%) of Iowa's female dentists responded to the survey. Out of these, 85% were general dentists, with 40% in solo practice; 25% were either an employee or an associate; and 22% were in a dental partnership.

"Women generally gravitate towards nonsolo practices because it allows them more flexibility in terms of time," Dr. Kuthy said.

This trend is not limited to the time when their children are young but is also seen over the long haul, he added.

Impact on household income

Nearly 80% of the survey participants had one or more children, with 60% having one or more minor children. In addition, 22 of 28 women who worked part time had minor children, whereas 93 of 164 working full time had minor children.

Female dentists without minor children were three times more likely to work full time than female dentists with minor children, the researchers found. In addition, younger female dentists were more likely to work part time.

"While it is assumed that this relates predominantly to child-rearing responsibilities, there is little empirical evidence confirming this assertion," the authors wrote.

When it comes to their contributing to household income, 3.9% contributed 0% to 25%; 7.7% contributed 26% to 40%; 27% contributed 41% to 60%; 28% contributed 61% to 75%; and 34% contributed 76% to 100%.

Female dentists who contribute more than 60% to the household income were 3.3 times more likely to work full time, the study authors noted.

"There are many reasons for dentists to work full or part time," they concluded. "Longitudinal research is needed to determine whether women change in the number of hours worked weekly during their professional careers."

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