Saturday, November 13, 2010

31. There are biological consequences.

It is never entirely your decision as to when you will marry or have children, but to the extent that it is, there are some important facts of life to keep in mind. There is a price to pay for delaying adulthood and marriage (see Reasons 12 and 15) that goes beyond the psychological cost of graduate school (see Reason 10). For women, fertility begins to decline before the age of 30, and for men the decline begins in the late 30s. For women over 35, fertility-treatment effectiveness also declines.

Because the road through graduate school to a secure job and income is such a long and uncertain one, graduate students have good reason to wait before starting a family. Of course, the longer people wait to have children, the fewer children they can have. And if they wait too long, it can be difficult to have any children at all. This is not an issue that usually crosses the mind of someone considering graduate school, but it should. The subject of a 2002 cover story in Time magazine, the grief that Sylvia Ann Hewlett calls the “crisis of childlessness” has affected a generation of successful people who made career a priority over family. To make matters worse, graduate school has the effect of putting off both family and career.



25 comments:

  1. Okay, okay, I like this blog and everything, but don't you think "Going to graduate school makes you infertile!" is a bit of a stretch? xD

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    1. I don't think it is way too much of a stretch to say so. Especially when you consider stress levels and that you don't have an exorbitant amount of time to form relationships outside of a colleague perhaps. There are really old graduate students who don't get out and start thinking about things until they're at that point. Hell, I know a woman who just graduated who was 36 or 37, not married or in a relationship and no child.

      You have to look at the bigger picture is what the blogger is trying to say. A lot of people may think they don't want kids, but a lot of people are lying to themselves at the same time.

      Delete
  2. This comment has nothing to do with this particular post.

    I stumbled upon this website last night while scrambling to cram whatever last bits of knowledge I could find for this morning's physics GRE exam.

    After looking over all the entries since finishing the test about an hour ago, I can definitely say that I don`t really feel like wasting my time and money on applications anymore.

    Before the test, I was (and kind of still am) considering grad school instead of finishing my current military career, which ends with retirement in 8 years. But after this subject GRE exam, 8 years until 50% retirement doesn`t sound that bad!

    Should I even bother with the general GRE next Saturday?

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  3. Don't limit your options by not taking one exam, but eight years is a typical time-to-degree in an American PhD program (for those who manage to finish, that is).

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  4. Another good reason...though to be frank, I don't think childlessness is any sort of genuine crisis -- we're all populating the planet just fine, and children are not the best or only way for every individual to find meaning in life. And of course there's adoption.

    But if you are interested in reproducing (can you tell I'm not?) grad school wastes a helluva a lot of your fertility/mate-meeting time, and I certainly know many regret-filled profs who wish they did things differently.

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  5. Problem: This assumes that if I DON'T go to grad school, I will find the appropriate person to marry and with whom to have children.

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  6. 1) Eight years may be typical, but it's not desirable in any way. We get finding for five years, which is meant to cover our MA and Ph.D. The college's expectation is that you will be done by then. I did my MA in two, and will do my Ph.D in three.

    2) I think this post is hugely overstated. In general, people of the middle class are choosing to have children later, irrespective of their career path.

    Also, if you want to emulate the Duggars and have nineteen children, then perhaps you need to take advantage of all your fertile years. If you want one or two kids, the vast majority of people have no issues at all conceiving and having healthy children in their early 30's. As the article says, a 50% chance each menstrual period becomes a 40% chance, which, uh, is hardly hugely significant. In practical terms, it means you may need to wait a couple of extra months before conceiving.

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  7. >But if you are interested in reproducing (can you >tell I'm not?) grad school wastes a helluva a lot >of your fertility/mate-meeting time, and I >certainly know many regret-filled profs who wish >they did things differently.

    Because no-one ever met their partner in grad school? Most of the people I know are dating or are married to someone they met in grad school. It seems to be a pretty darn effective way of meeting a mate.

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  8. Yes, Kae is right, grad school is indeed a very good place for dating and mating. But what happens after the wedding? The infamous "two-body problem"! (Yet another great reason not to go to grad school, and it certainly deserves its own column!)

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  9. Being able to balance career and family is a difficulty in any profession that awards you any degree of satisfaction or success. No matter what job you do, you are probably always going to be poor in your twenties, and if you aren't, this means you are working a massive number of hours anyway.

    Despite the difficulty, stop and think about how many college professors you know that are married and have children. Most of the professors I know have a family. If you really want it, you manage to work it out regardless of your career.

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  10. I talked to professors about the marriage and children thing. One of them actually said graduate school is a great time to have children because your schedule is so flexible that you typically don't have to pay for child care. I think that people who are willing to sacrifice family for career would probably do it regardless of graduate school.

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  11. This post is based on presuppositions that really irritate me. What sort of person would discourage others from getting more education? The world could actually use LESS people, not more, in case you have not noticed what has been happening to the planet during the last few centuries. What is so innately positive or desirable in attaining the maximum reproduction rates possible?

    I despise it when people try to enforce their own defeatism and self-perceived limitations on others. If you are incapable of having a family and studying at the same time, it's a shame, but it does not reflect everyone else's reality.

    "To make matters worse", I also dislike how the people who choose career (professional and/or academic) over family cannot deal with the consequences of their choices. I personally empathize with them, but this is mainly a matter of common sense and conscious choice. Nothing is stopping anyone from shifting her/his focus away from one thing in their lives to another. Well, aside from the fear of uncertainty and considerable change.

    I believe that children and having a family can be immense joy for the right person, at the right time. But this sort of 'successful' people who lament their previous choices - when they consciously decided that children would be too much work for them - are an example to be avoided: Balance out your priorities in a way that will include those that really matter for you. That's what life is all about.

    Work less and look after your family more, if that's what it takes. Do not complain if you don't have what it takes.

    Oh, and, uh there's something beautiful called Adoption. Nothing is more unreasonable to me than people supposedly lamenting their childlessness and still refuse to even consider adopting a person in need of a home and family.

    But I guess someone else's child is not good enough for us, is it?

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    1. Biologically speaking, no.

      DNA is designed to reproduce itself, not sacrifice itself to the perpetuation of completely unrelated DNA.

      But it's not pc to state the obvious.

      Delete
  12. Personally, I agree with the above (and other) comments both that we could do with fewer childrem on this overpopulated planet and that children are not the only means to a meaningful life.

    But, regarding adoption, the title of the post is "There are biological consequences." I think it's fair enough to be honest about those. Passing on their DNA to the next generation is a pretty big deal for some people. Biologically speaking, it makes a lot more sense to want your own children than to adopt someone else's. And, while adoption's great, there's nothing wrong with wanting your own kids.

    Again, biological consequences were not a reason that affected (or would have in retrospect) my decision to go to grad school, but these are something some people really should think about. Want kids now but don't want them to spend their early years on food stamps while you and your grad student spouse finish your dissertations? Spare yourself and your children the poverty and do something else with your career.

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  13. The ages for fertility decline are a little off. And if you want to include the risk of having mutant babies who have major genetic disorders, then you'd have to account for the paternal age effect increasing that risk linearly from a mere age 20 (the risk seems to increase at around 35 in women). But mutant sperm is the major problem here.

    I say this as someone who doesn't want kids myself, but please account for de novo sperm mutations, people.

    -Disillusioned student

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    1. The certainty of getting proven genes from an older person of either gender (athletic 45 year old male law professor or beautiful female 38 year old English professor) would offset the risk of a higher birth defect chance.

      I have a 19 year old female girlfriend (as a 40 year old male) but I would prefer to actually have a baby from someone 15-20 years older than she is who has proven that she could hold onto her looks as well as shown that she has evolved into a smart person. I don't want to have a daughter whose looks fade at 21 because I got a 19 year old pregnant whose looks later faded at 21.

      Meanwhile, it is very ideological to pretend that men reach menopause at the same age as women do (that they should be rejected by younger women) by pretending the 3% higher risk of birth defects from an older man carries the same weight as the women their age not being able to have a baby at all.

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  14. Oh no...another woman who wants a career and who doesnt want five children. *gasp* What a horrible injustice. Has the author of this article ever thought that some women who go to grad school may not want children at all? Probably not!

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  15. Ok, the point of grad school is to open new doors for higher level jobs, so your career is put on hold, but thats not a bad thing, because mcdonalds is NOT a career. The only role of women is not to have children, if that case is true then men shold get every woman pregnant that the see (rape). As for career, finding a job that doesnt require grad school is hard (excluding low level jobs such as fast food, ditch digger, janitor) and going to grad school makes it alot easier toi get a job, you do realize its the year 2011 and we now have electricity now...and teaching is noit the only career choice someone with a Phd can make. Maybe you should analyze your logic some more...if thats possible. You sound like a bored housewife who probabilly considers "mom" a career.

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  16. Hi, blog owner! I came to this site via Le Cygne Gris, and have been interested enough to read from Reason #1 forward. I wish this had been out there when I was considering law school, but at least it's out there now and some poor souls will get to hear what nobody else will tell them.

    You know, observing the comments, it's puzzling, how many allegedly "intellectual" people are completely incapable of taking a general observation as anything but a direct personal attack. They're also apparently not trained to consider a point and respond rationally to it, rather than to what they would like for it to be. Better still, they make unfounded assumptions about the person making the statements with which they disagree, and argue ad hominem. Great advocates for "higher education", wot? I can't wait to see how they handle the world.

    As for this particular reason, this is something that needs to be said more, regardless of how many feminists get bent out of shape by being reminded that some women want to have children before it's too late. You have to consider your windows of opportunity, simple as that. If a lady wants to have kids, she needs to do it while she's still able.

    Reality does not bend to our wishful thinking, people. That's what this blog appears to be about.

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  17. Look. Not everyone wants children. If you don't and you don't change your mind then this advice is irrelevant to you.

    But the fact of the matter is, most people, do, in the end, want children. I have lost count of the number of women I know who either did not want children or were profoundly ambivalent about children in their 20s, who then got to the point where they were prepared to walk through fire to conceive in their 30s. The fact of the matter is hormones kick in and people change. The biological urge to reproduce, like the sex drive, is unbelievably strong for good sound evolutionary reasons but it doesn't present generally speaking until quite late on. It is what it is.

    If you truly do not mind not having your own children then by all means leave it to the last minute. But if it is important to you, then you would be well advised to get yourself into a position where it is possible sooner rather than later. This goes for a wide range of middle class careers, but specific to this blog: grad school is not going to help.

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  18. Here are some examples of the material effects of the unfriendliness of academia towards anyone who doesn't fit the Cartesian heteromasculine model of the solitary scholar. These examples happened to me and colleagues:

    - Advisor told a student that getting pregnant in graduate school would kill her career and she should freeze her eggs
    - Advisor told a student that since her partner was carrying the baby, there's no reason for her work to slow down after the baby was born
    - Advisor told 38 week pregnant student to "power through it" to get her chapter in by the advisor's sabbatical trip to Europe
    - After informing advisor of pregnancy, advisor said they should "weigh all of their options."

    Many of this post's commenters miss the point that the structure of graduate school limits the reproductive options for women, men, people of color, trans folks, and alternatively abled folks in disproportionate ways. Also, It's completely understandable why *you* don't want to have children, but I grow tired of the "the world is overpopulated, stop breeding" argument. It's an ignorant mandate against reproductive freedom, borderline eugenicist, and all out body policing -- the exact language used by faculty in the above examples.

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    1. Agree. Academia is very hostile to families.

      Americans are not the problem with population anyway. If we were driving the demographic train the world would be losing population. It's all Africa/Asia.

      Delete
  19. The flip side to this one, is when you are done, you will make more money and be better able to support your offspring. So, you can have "R-selected" offspring, start earlier, have more low-quality kids and hope some survive, or "K-selected," where you put more time and money into them and end up with a higher fitness result.
    It comes out in the wash.

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  20. As you get sophisticated in grad school, of course people find it hard to relate to you, and you find it pointless to talk to them either. Because your intellect directs you to higher level of amusements, not shared by people in the mundane and messy "real world".

    And who cares about marriage and children? They just bring people endless trouble. You will be less happy with marriage and children.

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  21. Oddly thought about this recently and stumbled upon the post. I know quite a few who are graduating in their late 20s early 30s. If you want to have the option of having two kids you once you have settled into a "real job" you better not do too many post-docs. By the time you're in your 30s if you or your sig. other is of similar age, you're looking at less than 2/3 of chance of having a child after a year of trying. If you want two, you better not wait much longer either. Fertility quickly drops off after 35. Basically, I'm not sure this PhD thing is the best option if you want a family and you wish to wait after school to have them...

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