Want to Get Ahead? Get Hitched

Data document relationship between finishing graduate school, publishing, getting a job -- and being married.
October 20, 2006

A year ago, a graduate student in economics at Cornell University released a study showing that men who are married are more likely to finish doctoral programs than are single men. When Inside Higher Ed wrote about the study, the graduate student,  Joseph Price, received numerous questions from readers wanting to know just how far the marriage advantage took men in academe, and where it applied to women as well.

Price went back to his data and now is out with a new study. This one shows that married men do better than single men in academe not only in finishing their Ph.D.'s, but in publishing and landing a first tenure-track job. Married women have some advantages over their single counterparts, but not as many as married men do. And students with domestic partners are somewhere in the middle. The study was based on data from 11,000 graduate students from 100 departments over a 20-year period. While separate breakdowns were not available for those couples with and without children, a majority of the men and women in the study who were married had children while in graduate school.

The data in the survey are striking in showing both the advantage of being married and the greater advantage of being a married man than a married woman.

For example, married men are 75 percent more likely than single men to have completed a doctoral degree by the end of their fourth year of graduate school. And they are 66 percent, 39 percent, and 29 percent more likely to have completed their degrees in the fifth through seventh years. For women, married graduate students are 25 percent, 32 percent, 17 percent, and 9 percent more likely to have completed their doctorates in years four through seven.

That marital advantage continues beyond Ph.D. completion. The study found that married male students are 4 percentage points more likely to publish articles while in graduate school and to publish more articles, and are 8.4 percentage points more likely to obtain a tenure-track job within six months of graduating, compared to single male graduate students.

Married women also have an advantage over single women in being more likely to publish and to have more publications in graduate school. But married women and single women have no statistically significant difference in the odds of getting a tenure-track job in the six months after Ph.D. completion. Still, both groups have better odds than single men. In most categories, domestic partners fell in between the married and single rates for men and women; the questions on domestic partners were phrased to be inclusive of gay and straight couples.

For those who might think married graduate students are somehow better prepared going in, Price notes that the GRE scores of married graduate students are significantly lower on both the verbal and quantitative sections. In addition, married graduate students are typically older, and have a longer gap between undergraduate and graduate education.

In many respects, the greatest professional advantages found in the study go to married men. But in an interview, Price said that he thought the study's findings might be most useful to married women. Previous research studies, which Price said are confirmed anecdotally by graduate students he talks to, have documented bias against married women in graduate school and first jobs in academe. Some of those selecting among candidates assume that a married woman will abandon her career for parenthood.

Price said it was notable that a majority of women in his study who were married had children, and yet they were more productive and successful than single women. He said he hoped that those admitting graduate students to programs and hiring them would take note. "We shouldn't view married women as being less able to do well in graduate school and the professoriate," he said.

On  a personal level, Price said that he believes that the advantage family responsibilities bring to graduate students is time management. Price and his wife have three children and a fourth is on the way. Said Price: "For me, the biggest thing is that at 3 p.m., I'm crunching hard because I need to get home at 6."


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