Kids or Career? How Gender and Field of Study Impact College Students' Desires for Children

Having a child is arguably, if not definitely, the most demanding life commitment a person can make. For college students who feel they’ve barely gotten a grasp of adulthood, it’s a daunting responsibility. Compared to their parents, Gen Z tends to be more reluctant to compromise their freedom, financial security, or career goals for the sake of having children.

Importantly, however, the personal sacrifices required to have a child may look different depending on your sex and gender identity. To see if these differences are reflected in the Marriage Pact survey data, we took a look at average responses by gender to the question “I want children” at four schools: Stanford, Northwestern, UMich, and UPenn. Responses lie on a scale from 1 to 7, where 7 indicates the highest desire for children. 

Gender Kids

Men consistently indicated the strongest desire to have kids, followed closely by women and less closely by nonbinary students. What might account for this? To start, individuals outside of the gender binary may not subscribe to a traditional family structure, potentially explaining the lower averages among nonbinary respondents.

Further, a number of factors could be responsible for the gap between men and women. First, for cisgender men who don’t have to bear the burden of pregnancy and childbirth, having a child is easier said than done.

But perhaps more importantly, societal expectations surrounding motherhood typically place the brunt of childrearing on the woman in a heterosexual relationship. This not only means more physical labor, but potentially forgoing a more demanding career or sacrificing personal goals. 

With this idea in mind, how might the desire for children vary between female college students in different fields of study? Are women in pursuit of intensive careers in engineering or medicine less enthusiastic about having kids?

To find out, we sorted the top twenty majors at each school into STEM and non-STEM, comparing the averages between men and women in each category. 

Of course, it’s difficult to draw definitive conclusions here, given that students across the board tended to lean towards the pro-children end of the spectrum. However, at three of the four schools we looked at (Northwestern being the exception), women in STEM did have the lowest averages for the statement “I want children”. Further, the gap between averages for men and women was typically larger in the STEM category than in the non-STEM category.

STEM Gender Kids

At Stanford and UMich, we narrowed in on three STEM and non-STEM majors to compare students' averages in specific fields of study. 

Major Gender Kids Stanford
Major Gender Kids UMich

For engineering and biological science majors at both schools, we saw a larger gender disparity in students’ desires for children, where men had notably higher averages than women. This trend was much less pronounced—or even flipped—for fields like nursing, psychology, english, and political science. 

It’s interesting to investigate how students’ priorities for their future might shift based on their field of study and the way it intersects with their gender identity. That being said, pursuing a career in STEM and raising children are by no means mutually exclusive—establishing a balance between work and family is a difficult puzzle that every young adult must solve for themselves.