May 29, 2006

"Is marriage truly and inevitably a scourge for male and female scientists?"

Satoshi Kanazawa's study should daunt marriage enthusiasts. (Via A&L Daily.)
"The productivity of male scientists tends to drop right after marriage... Scientists tend to 'desist' from scientific research upon marriage, just like criminals desist from crime upon marriage.... Men conduct scientific research (or do anything else) in order to attract women and get married (albeit unconsciously)...What’s the point of doing science (or anything else) if one is already married?"
Other studies -- cited in the linked article -- show the effect of marriage on female scientists to be even more severe.

This makes me wonder whether married people encourage others to marry because they want to level the playing field. You don't want your competitors to have the no-marriage advantage. Shun that unmarried co-worker. You know, he/she is going to make it look like you're not working hard enough.

Hey sister, you're just movin too fast/You're screwin up the quota...


Sloanasaurus said...

That of course explains all the scientists in history who made many discoveries while married. What a stupid story. Obviously written by someone who is not married but wants to be.

Lost in Lowell said...

I realize it was a long time ago, but back in 1964/5, when I was going through USAF pilot training the gouge was that married student pilots did better than those not married, and thus got the better assignments--or at least got to choose their assignments ahead of the bachelors.

Ann Althouse said...

Actually, I've always heard that married law students do better. I was one myself. A spouse can distract you with demands for attention, but can also save you from other, more damaging distractions.

Maybe the unmarried, high-achieving scientists have personality problems that are the cause of both unmarriagability and other qualities that result in high scientific achievement (like workaholism or Asperger's syndrome). If so, it might not be the lack of a spouse that helps, but being the kind of person who can't get or doesn't want a spouse. And why doesn't the article even consider that a lot of these unmarrieds are gay? Maybe homosexuality is linked to science aptitude.

Seven Machos said...

Nietzsche said the same thing about Pascal, after Pascal became a Christian.

The fact is: when you were devoted 100 percent to something, and you get into some Other Thing, you won't maintain 100 percent devotion to both things. It's impossible. There's only so many hours in a day.

But, it's totally cool. Being in love is totally cool, and if it means that your particular contribution to science is going to diminish a bit, well, society is going to have to deal with that.

As for me, I can say that marriage has calmed me down and made me a lot more responsible. I have no scientific research to offer, of course.

mcg said...

I finished my Ph.D. work 3 years after getting married and 1 year after we had our daughter. I frankly don't know if I would have been sufficiently focused to finish at all had I not been married.

David said...

Maybe their productivity declined during the honeymoon period but am certain it picked up thereafter for most.

Very few activities keep you focused on your work besides a steady diet of married sex. Cuts down on the tension in the work place also.


amba said...

I think Ann has a good point with Aspergers, or just an excess of geekiness.

But the article is more balanced than her post suggests. It also considers the positive effects of marriage on some scientific careers, and the strains of such careers on other marriages.

Marriages That Enhance Careers

Is marriage truly and inevitably a scourge for male and female scientists? Or can it help advance scientific careers? To hear some real-world viewpoints on the impact of marriage on a science career, I raised the issue on the ScienceCareers Forum.

Several forum contributors saw marriage as a source of emotional and financial stability rather than a dangerous undertow. . . .

FXKLM said...

Maybe society should condone extramarital affairs or polygamy. That would give married men a continuing incentive to excel in science in the hope of attracting more women.

Seven Machos said...

"Of course I still love you, baby. It's just that if I don't have these sexual dalliances, science and the arts will suffer."

downtownlad said...

How do we know this isn't an age thing? Not sure if the study took age into account. People get less creative with age. That's not a stereotype, that's a fact. Mathematicians pretty much do their best work by their 30's.

Of course, with age comes experience, so people can still be effective in their jobs even if our minds are not as sharp as they were when we were 25 years-old.

Jim said...

It seems self-evident to me that bringing along a spouse and kids on your quest for scientific enlightenment is just as silly as bringing along a travel companion to China if you really want to learn the culture and language. Of course, you may clearly be served by a spouse who is in a special position to help, as one who is rich, childless, sterile and absent or, in the case of the traveler, native Chinese.

Einstein made the mistake of marrying too early, but soon rectified it by dismissing his wife and kids to a distant land and later by divorcing her and then marrying a relative who would cook and clean house for him, without asking any questions about how his day went. Lise Meitner was well served by not being married and, had she had spouse and kids, might never have escaped the Nazis, as she did, at the very last minute.

All the talk of the emotional comfort provided by spouse and kids is a mere rationalization for having messed up. The real tragedy is that confirmed bachelors, gays, and the childfree will live their lives paying, if indirectly, for their less productive married with children scientific brethren.

Seven Machos said...

Jim: If we could all just be marriage and child-free, think what a wonderfully, substantially improved society we would have in 100 years.

Tell me you are sublimely channeling Jonathan Swift. Tell me that, please.

Jim said...

Steven Machos,

Animals instinctively live their lives and sacrifice for future generations. Ayn Rand and the others of intelligence among us humans can choose not to. As Einstein said, "Let a woman in your life and the first thing she wants to do is rearrange the furniture."

John Jenkins said...

Maybe the unmarried, high-achieving scientists have personality problems that are the cause of both unmarriagability and other qualities that result in high scientific achievement.

Ouch, that's got to hurt.

Jim said...

And come to think of it, involvement with a woman impedes the development not only of a scientist. I think of folks like the Wright Brothers and Santos Dumont, Bobby Fisher, Charles Darwin and Ernest Shackleton.

Consider Shakleton: a great hero of mine, he took along no women on his epic voyage. He did take dogs, which could serve to pull a sled and later be eaten. Of course he took no children, and I wonder how many of the men of his crew were married with children. He returned after some 18 months of extreme duress without having lost a single human crew member. Had he had a crew with even one woman, especially a fertile or pregnant one, or a child, or a guy preoccupied with his "loved ones" back home, the outcome would surely have been different.

Seven Machos said...

Jim, have you considered moving to Saudi Arabia?

reader_iam said...

Ayn Rand was rather conflicted--sometimes confused, even--regarding matters between the sexes, and about women generally. (Remember the rape scene in The Fountainhead? Of course, Rand herself didn't really define that the way others would; I think she said something about it being "rape with an engraved invitation.)

Just curious, Jim: Have you also read "We The Living"? Interesting, the main relationship in that book, and it contradicts some of what you're saying (but then, it also contradicts some of what Rand said over time).

7M: LOL.

reader_iam said...

Is it too obvious to say that without the "uncreative," there would be no "creatives"?

Or that by definition, at least so far, everyone born has been "involved with a woman."

Only sayin'.

onelmom said...

At my law school's Prize Day last weekend, a significant number of prize winners were married, and many of us brought our children. A few mothers even brought their children up with them to be photographed with the Dean as their prizes were awarded. (I wouldn't dare!)

One small law school is not statistically significant, but seeing all those other married students and students with children getting prizes was somewhat of a surprise.

I know we're not smarter.

Maybe it's that we're older. Maybe it's our pre-law-school life experience. Maybe the mouths to feed motivate us to work harder. Maybe secondary and post-secondary schools aren't teaching law foundation subjects as well as they used to.

Who knows?

I spent my first semester feeling disadvantaged among my peers because I don't have nearly as much time to study as many of them do. Now I realize how lucky I am to have a life that is incompatible with law school myopia.

Jim said...


Maybe it's because the Law, the way we Amerikans know it, regularly filters out thinking folks like mathematicians, scientists, those who can't respond positively to arbitrary rules or authoritarian rules (like certification), and those who prefer a trade that can be practiced freely in the next state, maybe even on a moon of Jupiter, without having to be re-certified.

As a physicist (also law school graduate), I have participated in the design of WMDs, bombers, fighters and medical equipment without ever once having been certified by anyone! Was Einstein, Bohr or Feynmann ever certified in anything? Would you ever trust a person who has been certified or who eagerly raises his hand and utters, " help me god."?

Seven Machos said...

Come on, Jim. You think those physicists with Master's degrees and Ph.Ds never took orals and had to defend their theses? Also, what about the people who use WMDs, bombers, fighters, and medical equipment? Must they be certified?

Finally, the bar exam is not much of a certification process. And the bar is more of a lawyer's tax than anything else.

Jim said...

Seven Machos,

I consider the Bar and the annual Bar certification fees more like what the hookers in Nevada go through. No, I, like Jesus and Galileo before me, never had to defend any thesis, and most of the WMD users I have heard of lately (McVeigh, Kozinski, Bin Laden, Mohammed Atta, etc.) were not certified either. Certification is apparently for folks unsure of their abilities to influence the world in any way.

flounder said...

I think Jim is proving Ann's point about personality problems.

To inject one data point, my wife and I both dropped out of active research science shortly after getting married.

Marghlar said...

Well, to engage in a bit of lame law-school research, there are a lot of married people on the board of our law review, including a few with kids. In fact, if I think across our class in general, I think marrieds are out-performing singles. If we lost our drive to impress once we got hitched, that would seem to predict the opposite result, no?


On the licensing of lawyers:

Jim seems to forget that after a few years of practice, a lawyer can get reciprocity in most other states, so there is no need to get re-licensed. And one can always go to school in WI if one doesn't like taking licensing exams (no bar in Wisconsin if you are a WI law school graduate).

Maybe one reason that scientists have to take fewer tests than lawyers is that if most science is done poorly, the only result is wasted lab time and money, while when lawyers screw up, it can really f*** up their client's lives. For most professions where that is true (doctors, lawyers, accountants, pilots, etc) a licensing exam is a matter of course.

Jim said...

Yeah, right. What if (unlicensed immigrant) Enrico Fermi hadn't turned down that dial when he saw the exponential rise at 57th and Ellis in Chicago?

Marghlar said...

Jim: you seem to be missing my point. Good science clearly has the ability to greatly benefit everyone. But all bad science does is cost money, and usually fail to reach results that will be used by anyone.

Thus, ya'll can afford to have some cranks who waste time and money, because all that will result is that they will publish work that is of no value, and is used by anyone else.

But if your doctor, for instance, doesn't know what he's doing while he's removing your appendix, he can kill you. That's why he has to be Board Certified in order to do his job. The costs of error are much higher, and the rewards of the profession are more than great enough to compensate for that inconvenience.

For almost every lawyer I know, the bar exam is a nuisance, but certainly not at the top of their lists of worries. You do it once and you're done with it (unless you feel the need to move to another state very early in your carrier). Why all the fuss?

Jim said...

Here's why all the fuss Marghlar: People are forced at great expense to put up with lawyers, physicians, nurses, plumbers and A/C installers, who hide their incompetence behind their certification. It is uncertified scientists and engineers who have improved our lives immesurably in the past decades and the licensed quacks who have made it worse. The most likely place to get a deadly disease is still the licensed hospital.

Does it seem that strange to you to see all licensing and certification as the enemy of progress?

Marghlar said...

Does it seem that strange to you to see all licensing and certification as the enemy of progress?

No, it just seems ill-considered. The problem is that, unlike scientists, members of these professions have to interact with members of the general public. Just as most members of the public have no good way to evaluate the quality of an individual lawyer, I'd have no good way of knowing whether an individual doctor I was seeing was good or not. Thus, licensing serves as a modest way of keeping the very worst out (as do disciplinary committees on the bar and whatnot).

If the state didn't do this, I willing to bet that a voluntary service would spring up pretty quickly to allow professionals to take a test a get a Seal of Approval or somesuch, as a similar guarantee of minimal quality.

And as far as this goes:

The most likely place to get a deadly disease is still the licensed hospital.

So, when your heart is failing you, should I assume that you'll be staying home and doing your own bypass then, with the kitchen knife and the staple gun? I fail to see the connection between the hospital as unfortunate disease vector and the licensing. It seems like you'd be equally likely to get sick in an unlicensed hospital.

By the by, care to cite me a single example of an even adequate health system (doesn't need to be even good, just adequate) that doesn't involve state licensing? Pick any country you like. I doubt it exists.

Jim said...

If licensing actually served to protect the poor unwashed public, we'd have licensing of health food purveyors, preachers, prospective brides and grooms and, most of all, parents.

Whether or not a country exists that provides decent health care without a licensing requirement is no proof of anything; I will say, however, that I just bought a treatment course of mebendazole in Brazil, over the counter, for about $1. In the USSA, I would have had to pay $90 to see the physician to get a prescription and godknows how much to get the prescription filled. Brazil is the world leader in cosmetic surgery, in case you ever need any.

You think that licensing guarantees quality? I would like to see some comparisons made among states that do/don't license real estate, financial advice, medical, legal, and sex practitioners. Rumor has it that sex is just fine and real cheap in states where it isn't licensed and I know the pope himself doesn't think much of China's licensing priests.

Marghlar said...

Jim, there is a pretty clear difference in the capacity of a bad doctor to cause harm, as opposed to a bad priest. Also, licensing priests would be unconstituitonal in this country, buddy. Nor can I think of what basis the State could use to judge quality.

I actually think that licensing sex workers (rather than outlawing their business) would be a much more effective way of fighting STDs and drug use in that trade than the current outlawing.

Finally, I never said licensing guarantees high quality. What it does is provide some assurance against really, really LOW quality.

I generally think the marginal cost of licensing is more than offset by its benefits, in these sort of cases. I'd much rather get my medical care in the U.S. than in Latin America, and I'm willing to pay a premium for the privilege.

Marghlar said...

By the by: based on this, it looks like Brazil makes all its doctors but GPs get licensed.

So it looks like licensing isn't necessarily incompatible with your desire for cheap drugs.

Bruce Hayden said...

Law school is weird about marriages. It seems to help men, but not always women. One prof I knew had a roaring business of handling the divorces of his 2nd and 3rd year female students.

I attribute that to the fact of sex role differences in many marriages. For example, the woman who graduated first in my class had a couple of small kids. Instead of her husband helping out around the house while she was in law school, he still expected his dinner on the table every night, etc. Not surprising to me, after seeing her in class and then with him, she dumped him before graduation.

I was married through law school, and, yes, it probably helped.

Marghlar said...


At my law school, married women (including some with kids) are among the top students at school. Several married women are on the board of our Law Review. Last year, there was a mother of two on the board.

Sure, it's just anecdotal, but I think it points to an evolving ability to juggle these competing responsibilities, and maybe even slightly more equitable sex roles among my generation.

And not one of the women I know would tolerate that sort of crap from their husbands. Equity is much more the norm, at least in my social circles.

I think the hardest part for legal marrieds isn't law school, but the first few years of a career, when there is a lot of pressure to travel for clerkships, jobs, etc. I'll tell you that the prospect is driving my wife and I nuts.