Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Sociology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Fifteen married, female graduate students enrolled full-time during the fall of 1994 were interviewed and audio-tape recorded, guaranteed confidentiality, and assigned pseudonyms. Questions covered the topics of values, experiences in graduate school and marriage, the impact of children, pressures, conflicts, support systems, and coping strategies. I obtained a listing of all married, female graduate students enrolled at a regional state university located in the south central United States during the fall semester of 1994. From this list I identified and contacted those fulltime students who had taken no more than a five-year break between degrees and were under the age of thirty. Other respondents were acquired through a snowball technique. Respondents ranged in age from 22 to 29. All respondents were taking at least nine credit hours (a minimum for full-time students) when interviewed, and the majors varied. Only one respondent had been divorced and now re-married. Four respondents had children living with them; all children were under the age of three. The amount of time married varied from seven months to six years. It was expected that if one suffers as a result of value conflicts associated with simultaneously performing the roles of wife and graduate student, she will express less satisfaction with or perceive poorer performance with that role. A synthesis of Homans' exchange theory and symbolic interactionism provided the theoretical foundation from which the interviews were analyzed based on the symbolically defined cost/reward, give/take situation of the married, female graduate student. The women interviewed maintained that although pursuing a graduate degree and striving to be a good wife (and in some cases mother) was a physically and emotionally stressful endeavor, the ultimate rewards were and would ultimately be worth the costs. In an effort to cope or to minimize the costs, these women temporarily altered their value systems in order to lessen the pressures. Three maintenance strategies were discovered: "comparison," "reward redefinition," and "lowering standards." The amount and type of support husbands gave their wives, according to respondents, varied and was important to their success as graduate students. Four levels of support were found: "verbal support," "active support," "nonargumentative support," and "nonsupport." Overall, respondents reported being satisfied with their marriages, although most wives believed they were not very good wives at the present time. Respondents were less critical about graduate school as a whole and complained about the lack of challenge in specific classes and programs.


Education | Sociology