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Birth Timing of Female Graduate Students: A Review of the Literature

31 May 2012


In 2009, 60.4% of Master’s degrees, 49% of Professional degrees, and 52.3% of Doctoral degrees were earned by women. These figures indicate that high numbers of women are pursuing advanced degrees, often during their peak childbearing years. There is often not an ideal time to have children. However, there has been a trend for women with higher levels of education to postpone motherhood until a later age. Despite the presence of female graduate students, many of whom likely envision themselves becoming mothers one day, very little empirical research has been conducted to examine the factors that encourage or discourage having a child while in graduate school. A variety of factors impact graduate women contemplating motherhood in graduate school. This paper focuses on the impact that health concerns, concerns about fertility with increased age, financial considerations, and desire for degree completion can have in this realm. Fertility and health concerns are reviewed as variables that may promote earlier birth timing for female graduate students. In juxtaposition, literature on degree completion and financial considerations are explored as reasons female graduate students may postpone motherhood. Implications of either decision are discussed and areas of future research are identified.


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