Sunday, September 26, 2010

15. Marriage and family usually wait.

There are married graduate students, and there are graduate students with families, and the love and support offered by these loved ones is no doubt a great boon to someone in graduate school. However, if you do not begin graduate school married and with a family, you may very well finish graduate school unmarried and without a family. The reasons, more than anything else, are economic. By going to graduate school, you have more than likely either consigned yourself to relative poverty or to debt, and neither condition is ideal for starting a marriage or family.

Should you be one of those who finds a mate who is willing to support you financially and emotionally through graduate school, then you are fortunate; such patience and sacrifice are admirable qualities in a spouse. However, this will probably not be the case for most graduate students, for whom both time and money are in short supply. Raising children on a graduate student stipend must be nearly impossible for anyone in the humanities or social sciences. Furthermore, when and if you do finish a PhD, you will probably have no significant savings, and you will only now (nearing age 30) be entering the uncertain job market (see Reason 4). To wait until you are settled and securely employed before starting a family is a sensible decision, but one that can require an extra long wait if you choose to make your way through graduate school.



39 comments:

  1. I'm a graduate student married to another graduate student, and we do have a child. It's feasible now because we both have decent fellowships, and I don't regret having my child at all. But in the future, my spouse and I will have far less freedom than single, child-free graduate students do. If I finish my PhD and can't get a decent-paying academic job, then I'll have to quit academia. I just can't spend years adjuncting for a pittance and chasing my academic pipe dreams . . . not when people depend on me financially.

    So it's possible to have a family in graduate school, but it requires a lot of career sacrifices.

    Another way academia affects family life is through the "two-body problem." As graduate students, we're all a bit nerdy and probably feel most comfortable with fellow PhD students. But since academics can't control where they live, here's the potential outcome if you marry another graduate student: he gets a lectureship position in Idaho and you get a tenure-track position in Maine; or maybe he gets a tenure-track position in Alabama and you don't get offered a job at all, except adjunct work at your home institution in Washington, D.C. Obviously, the choice in such a situation is either a long-distance marriage, or one person foregoing work in order to live with the other (which can lead to boredom, resentment, etc. for the person who had to give up academia).

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  2. Maybe you shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that you're supposed to get married and pop out kids or you're a failure.

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    1. Precisely. People cannot think for themselves. Wiping drool does not make you an adult.

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    2. But what if you WANT to have kids? The blog isn't saying it's the only choice, but it's a consideration. If you want kids, maybe grad school makes things more complicated?

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    3. More people than not-even among academics-will want kids by the time they hit thirty. If you don't, fine, but the majority of you contemplating grad school will

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    4. Wiping drool does make you an adult. Today's individualistic, selfish culture as a big Me-Monster of self-fulfillment at the expense of other-centered family values. Narcissism has replaced altruism, but the narcissistic deny it. We cultivate a pursuit of self as if it were the Beatific Vision. We chase self-fulfillment then feel empty because we've spent our lives on selfishness. Selflessness pursues one's happiness through the happiness of others. I'm a grad student with a wife and kids studying virtue ethics.

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  3. Or maybe more people (especially women) should be honest about the fact that they want kids and that, at the age of 25, your odds for conceiving a child begin to drop. They begin to plummet at 30 and are seriously compromised at 35. That's directed at you, anonymous. Male or female, there are few people that don't, at some point want children and graduate school is a serious bet against having them.

    The other person that responded to this post is, I can only say, very, VERY lucky. They are not the norm. I hope they know that. I hope that if they move to Idaho so that their partner can have a tenure track job that they count their lucky stars every day.

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  4. Dear previous Anonymous poster,

    Yes, we women in graduate school are quite aware of our ever-decreasing fertility and how our career choices have affected our chances of having children.

    Don't worry, we, too, have parents wondering when—if—they'll get grandchildren out of us. We don't need more reminders, thank you.

    Love and kisses,

    Me

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    1. Then face the reality that the 20s are when women are best at breeding, and do something about it.

      Said another way: just as civil engineers accept the reality of gravity no matter how much it inconveniences them, accept the realities of human evolution.

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    2. At 20-25 your fertility rate is around 80% at 25-30 you are around 75% and at 30-35 you are at 65% (not really big percentage changes). 44% of new births are in mothers over the age of 30. I think it's completely reasonable to think a PhD (in my case) and a family + children is completely probable. I will graduate at 29 with my PhD and have a good 6+ baby making years left (prime time and then another 5 sub-prime). It's a very silly notion to press the "20"s as baby making years when the average age of marriage is now 26 and children are had by women well after the age of 30 and into the 40's.

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    3. "... and children are had by women... into the 40's"

      Yes but not without severe health risks. If you don't know this you might want to look up pre-eclampsia.

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  5. Okay...this post is making so many assumptions about the financial status of graduate students that it really doesn't work as a general warning about grad school.

    If you want to advise people not to go to grad school straight out of undergrad or not to go to grad school at the exact same time as your partner or spouse or if you want to encourage would-be grad students to build some savings before they go so they can live within their means while they're in graduate school rather than racking up huge debt, I'm in favor of all of this as advice.

    But declaring that graduate school will categorically make it nigh on impossible to have a baby during your fertile years? Too many people have kids in grad school for that to be the case and we can't all be preternaturally lucky. Yes, it can be difficult to manage but life is difficult to manage. If you want kids, figure out a way to have them. Use your imagination. Do something non-traditional. Just don't blame the academy because you submitted to its cultural expectation that you'll wait until tenure.

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  6. If I ever want a child that badly I will adopt one or find a sperm donor. Otherwise I will continue my life as a child-free individual.

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    1. This explains a lot about the decline of families and the growing alienation between men and women in many developed countries.

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  7. Nobody wants to get married and have kids. They just do.

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  8. I married a grad student (a humanities grad student no less.)

    I met a lot of people in the program who had kids (had them before, during, and after the program.) I even met a couple of who were both working for their phDs and they had a kid. Certainly it's difficult to keep a large, suburban house and two cars on a grad student's 'pay', but I will say that the state university had a generous insurance plan, which beats the 'no insurance' plan my husband now gets as an adjunct.

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  9. child-free = forgoing a lot of tax incentives.

    You should be able to save $ and invest while on grad school. Interest-free student loans are a great start for your entry to Wall street.

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    1. Or to running a company funding start-ups.

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  10. Im in graduate school in Washington D.C.. There are many difficult components to school. However, it has ultimately proven to be very rewarding and positively challenging. As a graduate student you do generally have more respect- professors are very flexible with you if you need more time for assignments, or extra help. And I must say that many of my graduate school friends became engaged over their first year of school. Many of us have met men and began very meaningful relationships that are leading towards marriage. Maybe you no longer attract the same level of person while your in school, a lot of the riff-raff gets weeded out :), but there is absolutely NO evidence that being in graduate school has any real correlation with your marriage and family. I am applying for a second masters after this experience and considering my PhD. I am not in gross student loan debt and I do not work outside of school, and yes, my salary will increase by at least $30k in the FIRST YEAR once I leave school. My schedule is jam packed Mon-Thursday between class and an unpaid field internship but I have 3 day weekends every single week to balance school and friends. And ultimately as schoolwork gets intense, sometimes the boyfriends/husbands take a back seat- but usually within 6 weeks time you will be getting a long holiday break where you have no responsibilities other than to build your social life.

    I understand that everyone has their opinions about graduate school. Not all of mine are positive- but I truly hope your not dissuading many people from returning to school as you are making a ton of gross assumptions. I though this may be a humor blog at first, maybe taking a piss at the concept of so much school... but you seem to be stubbornly making points that aren't true...

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    1. Yeah... you're in a master's program (of a vocational nature, from what I gather). You are *not* the target audience.

      Your version of grad school is not the same as the PhD-to-tenure track.

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  11. I wish this was the experience I saw with my grad peers. If someone entered single, they stayed single their entire stay. The students who had spouses who were not TA's were financially secure because of it and had a great time. They are very lucky indeed. Basically if you live with your parents or are not a head of household with a family, traditional grad school is not for you. The people I saw who had kids and were in a situation where both spouses had to work to keep food on the table broke up. My school offered a blanket stipend of 1000 a month with no health coverage whatsoever. My family spent my years in grad school poor, overstressed, and on food stamps to survive. My sense of self worth as a professional, a bread winner, and a contributing citizen to my community suffered. The experience was aweful, so much in fact that when I got my Master's I decided to apply it to the corporate world rather than academia by marketing myself as a highly trained language analyzer. Now I work for a great company that will send me out of town, with food and lodging paid, with great benefits and plenty of personal time. I get treated with respect and each one of my peers work together with the common goal of making our business successful. If you really love literature read journals and books and ask yourself how you can apply it to the world around you. By making your skills relevant to the world, beyond the luxury of creative appreciation, you do more to honor the ends of the great thinkers like Nuerath, Chaucer, and Livy than those who hide themselves within ivory cages.

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    1. Language analyzer? Maybe you should have stayed in school for those extra few years.

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    2. Lol, grammar police strikes again. This is why I dislike many pedantic academics. It's a blog post so chill.

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    3. The language we save may be our own.

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  12. I am 35 and after having a couple of health issues while I was getting my masters degree, decided to that I could do a PhD next. What a BIG mistake. It takes so much more energy now than it did when I was in my late twenties that my candidature has been extended and extended and my spouse (who is also doing a PhD) and I keep getting poorer and older and we can't even afford to keep cats. In the meantime, our friends really do pass us by -- they have kids, pets, cars, houses, new computers, and go on holidays. It also irks me to no end that undergraduate students these days are so disrespectful and demanding, they think the world owes them something. They have no idea that our work is so difficult and *totally* consuming and they want to go for drinks with you after class. I've even had the experience of some undergraduate students harassing me in class by saying that other TAs took them out for drinks so why couldn't I do it too (can you believe this?)? After 10+ years of teaching undergraduate students, I now hate teaching them. Oh yeah... and the way your male supervisors/superiors treat you if you are female and you have a spouse... well, let's just say that it means you're off limits to them and it makes them HATE you -- you get passed over for lots of things. Oh yeah... also there are the supervisors who blatantly STEAL your work and present it to your ENTIRE graduate student TA cohort as THEIR OWN WORK and you are powerless to do anything or say anything about it. Ok, I'm going off on a tangent here, better stop.

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  13. I am about to graduate in two months with a Ph.D. Been in full time graduate study for eight years, started at age 29 in 2004. Got married at age 34 (to a 39 year-old grad student) and had 1st baby nine months later at age 35. Am due with baby No. 2 a month after graduation. Will be 37. No conception/fertility problems whatsoever, and children are healthy.

    It can be done.

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  14. To the above poster: agreed.

    I'm ABD and have a two year old and one on the way due in June. Had my first right after exams, and will be having my second in the middle of writing the dissertation. It CAN be done, particularly with a supportive (and employed) spouse, but it does require certain sacrifices. Then again, it's not easy to be a two-career family with kids no matter what kind of job you have. In many ways, I feel fortunate to have a more flexible schedule than my lawyer and business friends whose kids are in childcare 9-10 hours a day. At least I have the flexibility to take my son to the playground a few afternoons a week and catch up on writing after he goes to bed.

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  15. I had a baby in graduate school, four months before defending. My husband was also a graduate student. We were poor, but fine. I was 30. Lots and lots of people have kids in their thirties, it is a fine thing to do. Especially between 30 and 35.
    People have kids and partners because it is fun and wild and exciting. Graduate school is good or bad depending on your expectations.

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    1. "People have kids and partners because it is fun and wild and exciting." This explains a lot to me about differences between men and women. "Wild and exciting" are not adjectives I would ever want to apply to my family life. And "fun" is not a good principal reason to have families in the first place.

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  16. It's not impossible to get married and have kids while in graduate school or pursuing a career in academia, as many previous comments have noted. However, while you may not think marriage and starting a family will be an issue, or even a consideration, know that your outlook may very well change during your academic journey.

    Here's my story. I just completed my first year of a Master's in Classics. I have been married for two years so I entered graduate school as a married woman. My husband is not an academic and is currently working on a BS in computer science after making a career change, so just because you are not married to an academic doesn't mean they will be able to support you! Luckily I have an assistantship and I work a second job in my department. I originally entered my field as a junior in college after deciding I really wanted to work with ancient art, either as an archaeologist or museum curator. I found out Latin and Greek were requirements for those careers so I began those languages from scratch, adding two additional years to my undergraduate career beyond the normal four, which unfortunately meant my scholarship ran out and forced me to rack up nearly $40,000 in student loans due to a large increase in tuition and fees, an archaeological excavation in Italy (required for grad school!), etc. I understand that's entirely my fault, and I'm not blaming anyone but myself for taking out student loans, but the point is there are a lot of sacrifices, including time and money, you must make just to be considered for graduate school.

    Fast forward to graduate school. I ended up staying at my undergraduate institution to work on a MA in Classics, basically focusing on languages that I'm not passionate about, just to be considered for a PhD in Classical Archaeology, the subject matter I originally started this journey for five years ago. It's the norm to get a terminal MA in the languages before doing the PhD, since it shows departments that you are serious and have done the required preparation. I entered graduate school as the only person in my department who was 1) married, 2) a pet parent (I have a dog and three cats and they are a BIG part of my life), and 3) completely independent from my parents. Needless to say, I was instantly socially ostracized. I quickly realized that academia is NOT right for me, and have found many of my experiences confirmed on this blog. Since the careers I originally wanted require a PhD, and I immediately knew I couldn't make myself do that, I decided to focus instead on becoming a high school teacher. My MA program is #1 for preparing Latin high school teachers. After some extra thought, however, I decided I'm not passionate about Latin, and can't imagine spending my entire day teaching it to others. So, at this point, I have one year left before finishing my MA and I've already decided to do nothing with it. What do I want to do? Well, after two years of marriage, my husband and I decided we really want to have children in the next few years. Not only that, but I want to be a stay at home mom and homeschool. It's becoming increasingly common for well-educated women to leave their career paths and stay home with their children (see the book "Radical Homemakers" if you don't believe me). Five years ago, I never would have though I would want to be a homemaker and a mother. But I only realized this after seven years of school with one more to go and $40,000 of student loans. What do I do now? Do I quit my program or finish? It's definitely a hard lesson to learn, but marriage and family are a HUGE part of your life and should be a consideration when debating whether or not to go to graduate school.

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  17. I just came across this blog - it is wonderful! Very much needed.

    To the Ron above who indicated that women should just stop trying to ignore biology - you are disgustingly sexist. You'll probably never come back to read it, but you are.

    Why should I have to sacrifice my dreams of an academic career just so my husband and I can have children? Since you seem to be such a grand source of advice for academic women, tell me when I should have children. Should I have them in undergrad, when I am at my most fertile but have no idea what I'm doing with my life? Should I have them in grad school, when I am perpetually broke and have no idea where I (or my partner!) will be living in a year or two? Should I have them once I get that elusive tenure-track job, when I will still be fertile (maybe!) but people will be watching my every move leading up to my tenure review (and remember, some places still expect you to be earning tenure even when on maternity leave)? Or how about when I get tenure, by which time the odds are that I will be infertile?

    The system is broken. Academe was conceived in a time when it was all-male, and starting families wasn't a concern because they had wives at home to take care of that. I refuse to apologize for wanting both a family and a career, and I hope that if you are an academic, you realize how ridiculous your statement is if you ever choose to start a family yourself.

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    1. Ron's not being sexist, although I do find the "breeding" term so popular on the internet among the "child free" to be rather offensive. Calling him sexist just because you dislike the reality of his statement, that women are much less likely to conceive and bear healthy children later in life, makes the word meaningless. It's not impossible for a woman to have kids in her late thirties or forties, but it's not something you should plan on. Everybody knows that. You're saying essentially the same thing here: that an academic career is not ideal for a woman who would like to bear children. Maybe (probably! definitely?) the system is broken, but even if it is ever going to be fixed, it's likely not going to be during the fertility of young women already in their twenties today, so we still have some difficult choices to make.

      Don't apologize for wanting both an academic career and a family, but don't assume that wanting is going to get you either.

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    2. Oh come on now. Your most fertile when you are in high school. Statistics show this is true. All of those teens having babies, they are so fertile. You already missed out on the best time. At any rate, you should be working everyday to get yourself pregnant. Hurry, now...before it is too late! (sarcasm just in case you didn't know)

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  18. As a dedicated female academic my main worry is that along with the fertility drop there is the increased chance of having a special needs kid. I'm simply not willing to risk destroying my passion/ career and my relationship over that.

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  19. This correlates with issues that affect every woman in a career with upward trajectory. See the recent discussion re: the new CEO of Yahoo.

    I will say, though, that as a grad student the traditional way of going about marriage and family is difficult. But then you have to believe that the traditional life formula is desirable and/or proper.

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  20. I love how these posts always turn into a glib debate about women and reproduction. It isn't about living child-free or a debate on whether a person can survive grad school with children. The post is about understanding the sacrifices and difficulties one may experience if one chooses to go for a Ph.D. and yet desires to start a family.

    Yes it is generalized, but it has to be when advising people about the nature of living the life of the mind. It is basically, if you choose to go to grad school these reasons may be important to you rather than specifically speaking to YOU! So please consider this idea before posting.

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  21. I am married to a PhD Student. She is gone over 60 hours a week. We have a child who is 2yrs old and she never spends time with her. It is miserable for me & I am worried how our child will be affected by her absence. If you value your family, get a regular 40hr a week job and spend as much time at home as possible. If you value your research more than you do your family, expect to have problems at home. You may end up with a PhD, but you may find yourself all alone by the end of it.

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    1. Do 40-hour-a-week jobs still exist? I have my doubts. Seems to me they're all part-time or 50+ hours/week.

      Other than that minor quibble, the best thing you can do is to start documenting your role in your child's care - journal, photos, activities. Also go back and document what you've been doing the last three years with your child. It might help also to describe your role in household activities. Also, separately you need to document what you may have contributed toward your wife's further education (records, canceled checks, credit card statements, book receipts, etc.). Keep these documents in a safe place that your wife cannot access.

      It sounds as if your wife is on a different (or at least a non-complementary) life track than you are. It happens. When she decides she's had enough of you (a disturbingly common problem today and especially common among married female graduate students) you will need these records to avoid being taken for everything you've got, supposedly in support of your child, who you may not even get to see. Divorce and related custody law are very, very, very prejudiced against husbands and fathers. If it should come to that, you should be prepared to expect the worst.

      Anyway, protect your interests, and cover your *ss - hopefully it will all work out and you won't need this insurance.

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  22. I had a baby as a single mom during the last year of my PhD. I ended up having to move in with my parents and was not able to take on a postdoc with the baby. Now I am looking for industry jobs. This type of thing is not horrible if you are reasonably well off (no massive debt), if you have parents who will help and if you don't mind going into industry.

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