Hungarians want ‘parental reintegration grant’ to tackle pay gap

Government with decade-old birth policy must strengthen support for post-maternity return to work, young academicians say

January 22, 2023
Gender pay gap
Source: iStock

Hungary’s gender pay gap widens with each child a researcher has, leading the Hungarian Young Academy to call for a new parental reintegration grant to help curb a culture that critics say is still steeped in traditional gender roles.

“In Scandinavian or other Western countries, the household and other unpaid workload is starting to get much more evenly distributed among parents, while in Hungary it’s mostly still going to the women,” Katalin Solymosi, a researcher at Eötvös Loránd University and co-chair of the Hungarian Young Academy, told Times Higher Education

A 2022 Hungarian Young Academy survey with 1,135 respondents found the gender pay gap for early career researchers grew from Ft46,000 (£102) monthly for women without children, rising to Ft129,000 for those with one child, and Ft159,000 and Ft175,000 for those with two or three, respectively.

Legally defined public sector salaries should limit pay gaps, but women’s lower citations and publications affect performance-linked pay, both of which are hit by maternity, with leave of up to three years per child common. There is also a cultural tendency for laboratory heads to hand extra paid work or grants to men, said Professor Solymosi, who is also vice-chair of the Young Academy of Europe.

Since 2010 the Hungarian government has been on a mission to raise birth rates, forgiving the student loans of women under 30 who have children while in higher education or within two years of graduating, for example, but offering less help for those who want to return to work.

“I have had to restart my career, which was hard because I wasn’t so young and hadn’t so much time as I had three little children,” said Georgina Fröhlich, a researcher at the National Institute of Oncology and academy board member. “I had to start everything from zero because all of my research topics were transferred to other young, male colleagues during my maternity leave.” 

To help mitigate cultural expectations and close the gender pay gap, the academy wants a three year, Ft48 million reintegration grant that would be open to anyone after at least one year of uninterrupted parental leave. It is still in negotiations with the ministry.

Dr Solymosi has two children and took six years’ maternity leave. She kept her publications ticking over by writing review articles and having collaborators do more lab work, but still lost promising students. “Now it’s OK, but it’s a long process. It takes two or three years to have the first results and publications, to have students who are trained and useful,” she said.

At 30 per cent, Hungary sits a couple of percentage points below the European Union average for the participation of women in research and, at 16.5 per cent, has the highest proportion working under “precarious” conditions, according to data compiled by the European Commission.

“I’m really sad to see that there are a lot of talents wasted and lost,” said Dr Solymosi, adding that her own return to academia was only possible with help from her parents and husband. “There are probably women who are more talented than me, but they simply did not choose a supportive partner.”

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Reader's comments (1)

Maybe there should be separate career paths and expectations for women with continuing academic interests. It would be likely that they would catch up in later years for example, once their children were grown.