Monday, May 29, 2006

Science and marriage

Several years ago, Satoshi Kanazawa, then a psychologist at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, analyzed a biographical database of 280 great scientists--mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and biologists. When he calculated the age of each scientist at the peak of his career--the sample was predominantly male--Kanazawa noted an interesting trend. After a crest during the third decade of life, scientific productivity--as evidenced by major discoveries and publications--fell off dramatically with age. When he looked at the marital history of the sample, he found that the decline in productivity was less severe among men who had never been married. As a group, unmarried scientists continued to achieve well into their late 50s, and their rates of decline were slower. [...]

Marriage has also been shown to have an adverse impact on the careers of female scientists. Data from the National Science Foundation show that female, doctoral-level scientists, and engineers are less likely to be married than are their male counterparts (66% versus 83%). Among those married, however, women are more likely to confront problems accommodating a two-career marriage--one reason being that they are twice as likely as men to have a spouse who works full-time. Add children to the mix, and the problem is compounded. Research by Kimberlee Shauman, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, found that time off for birth and child rearing poses a significant, often irreversible, impediment to a woman’s career.

That's what the data say. Now, what does one make of this evolutionary psychological explanation of the data:

Kanazawa's perhaps controversial perspective is that of an evolutionary psychologist. "Men conduct scientific research (or do anything else) in order to attract women and get married (albeit unconsciously)," he says. "What’s the point of doing science (or anything else) if one is already married? Marriage (or, more accurately reproductive success, which men can usually attain only through marriage) is the goal; science or anything else men do is but a means. From my perspective, scientists are no different than anybody else; evolutionary psychology applies to all humans equally," he adds.

Hmmm ...

* * *

Thanks to this recently married scientist and blogger for the pointer.