Since the 1970s, women have formed a growing percentage of university graduates and more female graduates are entering high-level careers and moving into the senior ranks of their chosen careers. However, numerous studies from the English-speaking countries have found that women are more likely than men to make employment concessions for family responsibilities, regardless of their educational attainment or employment aspirations. Using full-time academic staff working in universities as examples of highly educated professionals with strong career commitment, this paper investigates the impact of family circumstances on academic careers. Studies from several countries indicate that the family status, rank, salary and attrition rates of women academics typically differ from their male counterparts. Gender segregation also remains in many university departments, especially at senior ranks. These studies suggest that gendered differences in professional status reflect varying family and personal priorities, the division of labour at home, and a variety of institutional practices that favour those without family responsibilities. Through a review of international research on family life and academic careers, supplemented by qualitative interviews with New Zealand-based academics, this paper explores the choices and constraints involved in personal life and academic work. The paper aims to contribute to the growing body of research on balancing work and family life, as well as the continuing gender gap in academia.