The Deinstitutionalization of Marriage and Family among the Academic Elite: The Marriage, Family, and Career Expectations of PhD Seeking Women and Men
Allen, Marbella Eboni
Master of Arts
Most sociological approaches to understanding work/family balance focus exclusively on behavior, examining how employed mothers negotiate marriage, family, and career obligations. Drawing on the socially constructed notion that these obligations are incompatible, much of this literature assumes that career-oriented mothers opt-out of the labor force in response to conflict between work and family spheres. Yet, there is a considerable gap in sociological literature concerning individuals’ perceptions of work/family balance, and how family plans are considered alongside career goals. Drawing on 47 in-depth interviews with unmarried and childless PhD students at two Research I Southern universities, I find that most of the non-partnered students are actively single and prioritize career development over marriage and family formation. Investigating the work/family desires, expectations, and perceptions of career-oriented and non-parenting individuals can provide useful insight into how notions of work and family incompatibility are constructed and reproduced. Driven by deeply rooted investments in scholar identities, these students perceive marriage and family formation as potential impediments to career success and stability. Students’ describe their experiences in graduate school in ways that align with previously discussed characterizations of greedy institutions. The students’ perception of their graduate school experience as greedy in turn informed their current behavior and expectations driving them to employ particular strategies in their current lives in order to accomplish a desired career outcome. They identified certain factors relating to graduate school and career development as impediments to pursuing a marriageable partner and starting a family. These findings contribute to research on the relationship between schooling, career orientation, and family formation as well as marital values for particular groups. The findings are of particular importance in consideration of “competing devotions” and expectations of work-family balance.