Why women in science end up single

This blog post is a response to this article on successful women scientists. Among those interviewed is Dr. Luli Cruz from the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (MSI represent!). Part of her interview:

Lourdes Cruz says that motherhood is one of the main reasons for the lack of female academicians in the country and elsewhere. Many women in the Philippines get first degrees β€” for example, 60 per cent of chemistry graduates are women β€” but few stay on to pursue careers in science.

“Women have greater opportunities here than in most Asian countries, but only 30 per cent of awardees [recipients of prestigious awards] are women,” says Cruz. “Sometimes you have to choose between career and family.” Cruz says this is one of the reasons she chose to remain single.

I’m estimating that the female senior faculty members of MSI are about 50/50 on the single versus married front. What I really want to know is out of the ones who are married, how many got married before getting their PhD versus those who married after getting the PhD. Why is this relevant?

Getting a PhD takes 6-7 years (maybe even longer) on top of the bachelor’s (and possibly a master’s) degree. You’d have to be very talented and determined to finish before you’re 30 years old. As Philippine society considers an unmarried 30-year-old female to be borderline “old maid”, with her chances of getting married decreasing exponentially with every year past 30, the “window of opportunity” for females to meet someone, start a relationship, and get married is between the ages of 21 and 29. For the women of Philippine science, this coincides with grad school – the years of your life where you’re too busy to do anything else.

Based on the people I know, female scientists who marry or otherwise have significant others either 1) met the guy during undergrad and they kept the relationship alive and healthy throughout grad school, or 2) met and dated a co-grad student (may or may not be in the same program). I’m not saying it’s impossible for a girl in grad school to nurture a relationship with someone who’s not in grad school. It’s just that people in the same boat as you tend to be more understanding when you say you can’t go out tonight because you have to finish looking at 2,000 more photographs from your transect. I give mad props to the people who stick with their grad students (whether male or female) through these tension-filled years. Remember: this is only the beginning! There’s also the tension to be had during grant-writing, manuscript-writing, and waiting for that tenure appointment πŸ˜›

I’m very happy to note that the “30-year-old finish line” is loosening its grip somewhat. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to get married and have your first baby before 30, but there shouldn’t be anything wrong with wanting to delay marriage for a few years in favor of a career either.

Say it now!