Dual Standards of Success, by Gender

Monday, July 19, 2010

Couple Bokeh

More Married Males than Females in [my] Graduate Program

Take a look at the following table, it represents the PhD students in my department, broken down by gender, marital status, and whether they have children or not. Barring the fact that this is one tiny instance (and maybe some bizarre effects of this data being from a computer science program), this is sort of wild. We have some phenomenon going on where the females are significantly less likely to be married than the males (or vice versa, I believe this data is correlational: not causal), along with my suspicion that the females are on average younger than the males.

[Edit 7/20/10: It turns out that there is no significant difference in age, by gender: F(1, 36) = 1.6991, p = 0.2007. It also turns out that age and marriage are significantly correlated: (older people are more likely to be married, or vice versa): χ²(1, N = 38) = 4.24, p = 0.0395]

PhD Students [in my department] by Gender and Marital Status
GenderSingleMarriedw. KidsTotal
χ²(1, N = 39) = 4.67, p = 0.0306 (married by gender)

Why are so few females married, despite not being younger? Notice there's the same number of males as females, one would expect a similar number married as well.

I've had some discussions about this with some colleagues, and the general [intuitive] understanding is that women give up more when a child is born. That for some reason, men can sacrifice their paycheck to further their career in a PhD program, but that women just don't. Maybe this is particular to just this computer-science-related program, maybe not.

Success for Females: Appearance + Relationships

Cue Holland & Eisenhart (1992) "Educated in Romance", an ethnographic study spanning 10 years that examines how bright, motivated women often back off their career aspirations in order to obtain success through relationships.
There's some book reviews floating about that will hint at how the book examines society's dual-measure of success; males are judged by career, sports, politics, and relationships (to a lesser extent), while women are judged with more emphasis on relationships and physical appearance.

So maybe another reason married women aren't well represented in this PhD program is because they have already achieved the greatest proportion of success that society will give them, and a PhD won't add noticeably to that? Or that furthering one's career just falls to the wayside when focusing on appearance, love life, and family?

Women's Relationship Blogs

What would you think of a blog titled, "A Day in the Life of a Grad Student's Husband"?

I have been noticing a surprisingly large number of blogs where the female authors have defined it entirely around being "a Grad Student's Wife" or a "Grad-Student Girlfriend." Even the blogs dedicated to "being single" strike me as unusual- what if these blogs were written by males? Why is it acceptable (expected?) for a woman to have a relationship blog, but not males? Does a "relationship blog" entail a focus on relationships in one's life?

Those in glass houses...

My blog is named after vegetarian BBQs I used to hold in my backyard as an undergraduate in Philadelphia; essentially, I define my blog around food + friends. "Friends" could be counted as a relationship focus, perhaps, but I think it would be better to criticize this blog's occasional focus on clothing (i.e., appearance). Am I just giving in to society's dual standards of success by having fashion posts? Now I begin thinking in circles. It's confusing.


Why are there significantly fewer married women in my PhD program?
Does society really define male and female success differently?
How do you prioritize a desire to have a family and a career?
Is this topic even worth thinking about?


Allison said...

I really think you've answered your own question here. Age is definitely a confounding factor. I'm not sure its even valid to consider without considering age.

h said...

So I did the extra legwork to gather age data (i.e. troll Facebook) and add it to the blog post, so I can better reason with this. Since age/gender aren't correlated, we're still stuck with the following [refined] question:

** Why are the males in the department significantly more likely to be married than the women, despite not being significantly older? **

Or, put in the second form of the correlation: why are the married people in the department more likely to be male, despite the older people not being more likely to be male?

Kris said...

This is really interesting. I definitely would have thought that more men have children than women, since women are generally expected to give up more on the birth of a child than a man is, but I wouldn't have thought being married had anything to do with being a student.

h said...

Kris- I think initially one would think that, but in the end...aren't marriage + children actually related?

It's quite possible that the majority of women plan on having children within 10 years of getting married, and may not want to do that while in grad school. Or may plan on staying at home, making a PhD sort of superfluous.

Although, in academic-land, we're constantly told that grad school is the best time to have children. 'Doesn't really mean much to those who don't reside in academic-land.

Allison said...

Ah, interesting. I'm kind of surprised. Perhaps it boils down just to the type of person in grad school. To make the question more complicated, are the women in your department looking to be married? I think Kris hits on a good point- women are expected to give up more after marriage/kids. For example,I personally have always put school before relationships/kids. I want to have my education and career set before I do anything else. (of course, I just graduated and started a full time job, so now what? but thats a different story)

Kris said...

I found this post fascinating. I was slow in posting a comment because I kept coming back to thinking about it. I've been thinking about similar things for a while now. I'm about to get married, but I'll only be the third in my mainly-female department to be married. I've thought about having kids, but it sounds really stressful in grad school. I wish I had something more intelligent to add to the conversation, but mostly I just keep coming back to the feeling that it's just different to think about being the "mom" in grad school than being the "dad"...

h said...

Haha, so, Kris (#2, lol) it is widely understood by academics (at least within computer science fields) that having a child during grad school is actually the best time. Grad school is when you will have the most free time, especially once you're done coursework- BUT, this only really applies if you plan on becoming a professor, particularly a research professor.

Allison- It's possible these results are specific not just to people in "grad school" but people in grad school in my particular field, but either way, I think the question really is "why is this?" What are the social pressures that prevent married women from going into grad school? (assuming this data is generalizable to all/most PhD programs)

Claire said...

I'm late to the game, but this was also what I found in grad school. My department was very small, but nearly all the men were married or engaged, and only one woman was (and she was in her 50s having returned to grad school).

I think it would be interesting to look at how far the married and unmarried grad students had moved from their childhood homes and undergraduate universities.

I think that when one partner wants to move far away, there's a tendancy to really examine the relationship and decide its future, which either comes down to breaking up or getting engaged/married.

Today's society still expects men to be the primary breadwinner, so it may be more acceptable for a woman to give up her community, friends and job to follow a man (so long as he has committed to her), than for a man to follow a woman. If the woman moves, they'd be more likely to break up. You should see people's reaction when they find out that my husband moved for my career and hasn't been able to find a job here yet- they actually seem angry that he's a househusband! but no one bats an eyelash when a woman in the group says she's a housewife.

Anecdotaly, this is what I found in my department. One girl in a 3+ year relationship who went from living with her boyfriend back home was single within 6 months. A man got married after he graduated from undergrad because his wife didn't want to uproot her life for him without the commitment. Perhaps giving up things other than one's home could be analogous, for example, maybe it's more acceptable for a woman to put her dream of launching her own small business on hold than for a man to, but I'm not sure if you could measure that as easily.

h said...

So, as you point out, you can't really measure...pretty much any of this, hahaha. But it is an interesting thought question.

I think in the post I suggest that since women's success is judged based on their relationships moreso than men, and men's success is based moreso on their career than it is for women, that maybe, quite simply, most of these women's career goals just aren't as important (to society, and since society affects our beliefs, it forces our hand somewhat when we make decisions). Bringing this back to your suggestion, when one partner wants to move far away, perhaps it is most likely the male, based upon this other stuff about society and success. If the woman has a partner, perhaps she is more satisfied because that is one of the life successes that society values for her. For men, it's having a partner AND a successful career. As a man, moving for the partner's career (less valued) thereby uprooting their own career (more valued) is just not something you would do. And then add on top of this a sort of social punishment/anger for both parties, for one of them being a househusband.

Distance from hometown (or social networks available in the new town), or race, or an assortment of other variables might be useful, too. I just decided to do this all from the top of my head without pestering all the PhD students about their personal lives, lol.

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