Women In Academia

Women in Academia: Are We Doomed To Spinsterhood?


Well, now that we’ve got that squared away”¦oh, what’s that? I should provide some facts to back this assertion up? All right then. So, to be upfront about my sources (or lack thereof), I only have data on women in academia collected by the National Science Foundation: women who work for an academic institution and have a doctorate in computer sciences, engineering, life sciences, mathematics, physical sciences, psychology, or social sciences were polled. This means that I have no data for women in the humanities. Also, the women are anywhere from 25-70+ in age, and the NSF study was conducted in 2006. That’s six(!) years ago now.

According to them, 14.4% of women surveyed have never been married or in a marriage-like relationship. Using data from 2009 from the U.S. Census Bureau, I found that for the same age group, around 15% of all U.S. women had never been married. Women in academia were just as likely to have been married as women outside of academia.

Relationships are important. We all know it from personal experience and studies have confirmed that yes, real evidence exists to support our personal observations. The pursuit of an academic career throws many impediments in the path of people attempting to create a stable plan for the future, let alone build a relationship and a family. Heck, we’ve even talked about the two-body problem on here before. This structural lack of support for people struggling to build healthy personal lives is a huge problem.

There are hints of that huge problem even in the NSF study: the percentage of women in academia who have been divorced is twice the percentage of men in academia. I would argue that that’s not great, and that it is a sign of the stressors women in particular face when pursuing a high-achieving, demanding, and sometimes stressful career. I would also argue that the only way things will change is with a deconstruction of traditional gender roles and greater support for underrepresented groups in academia.

6 replies on “Women in Academia: Are We Doomed To Spinsterhood?”

I don’t know how I feel about judging a woman’s relationship status only by checking to see if she’s married. I would hope that with more education, women would be more skeptical of the institution of marriage and more likely to engage in non traditional relationships.

My partner and I oppose marriage because we see it as the upholding of traditional values and family structures that we do not ideologically support.

I also don’t see a problem with being smart enough, strong enough and independent enough to know when to call it quits and get a divorce for the sake of your own personal happiness. Women who lack education are often economically unable to do this, so divorce can also be seen as a privilege.


Yes, so the survey included both marriage and a category for long-term marriage-like relationships. Women who were “never married” had not been in either a marriage or a long-term, marriage-like relationship. I think that category was mostly included for couples who cannot legally get married, but there you have it.

Anyway, there is no data (ETA: that I could find that was clear on its methodology and study group demographics) on whether or not someone is in fulfilling relationships and in academia, so the marriage data was my best approximation.

And to your second point about divorce, I agree that it is great that people have the means and ability to leave a bad relationship,and that some people lack access to divorce. However, both men and women in academia have substantially lower divorce rates than the general population (women in academia have a divorce rate half of women outside and men in academia have a divorce rate about a quarter of men outside). So I think there is something else going on beyond just access to divorce.

That’s very interesting. I wonder if it could be because the more education one has, the older they will likely be when they get married? Hopefully by that point, most women will have figured out who they are and what their realistic expectations are in a serious relationship, thus NOT settling and therefore having lower divorce rates.

I’ve been engaged for 1 1/2 years to a man I’ve been with for 5. We have no intention of getting married as of now, and the engagement serves more of a commitment function. If we ever do get married, it will be much later after we’ve had enough time to realistically assess whether or not we think we can make each other happy long term. I also think that the more education I obtain (and the more radical my political beliefs become), the more skeptical I am of marriage in general. It’s just not necessary if you love someone, are committed to them and don’t need society’s approval of your relationship. This could also be part of what’s happening with women in academia. I would like to think that this represents a gradual shift in family values, which this country desperately needs.

As a lady in academia who is getting married this year, there’s totally a lingering “aww, crap…” aspect to this article (twice as likely to get divorced?!). I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but looking at the various professors at my institution, there’s a lot of unstable relationships out there in academia. It’s funny but the best partnerships (I go to a crunchy-hippy school where few people label it as a “marriage”) seem to be when both are in academia- maybe there’s a little more understanding of the stressors going on?

Leave a Reply