Women with degrees in technology are less likely to cohabit or to marry than non-graduates. They are also more than twice as likely to be childless, according to research announced at the recent annual conference of the British Sociological Association.
Louisa Blackwell of the Institute of Education in London analysed the careers of tens of thousands of scientists, engineers and technologists using data from the Office for National Statistics and was surprised to uncover differences in family formation correlated to choice of degree subject.
Her research shows that male technology graduates are more likely to marry than those in other disciplines. Women with natural science degrees are most likely to stay single.
Ms Blackwell found that choosing a health-related subject offered the best chance of getting married and having children for both men and women. A quarter of women with degrees in health subjects married other health graduates.
Employment patterns also varied across the disciplines. While health graduates tended to stay in health-related occupations, natural science and technology graduates were much more likely to get jobs outside the field. Most women working in technology and the natural sciences leave these occupations if they become mothers.
Ms Blackwell said the reasons for the variations between subjects were outside the scope of her study, although it was clear that choice of degree subject could have a profound influence on whether graduates remain single or become parents.
Discipline culture could play a significant part, she said. The demands of different careers were also important. Natural scientists and technologists, for instance, often worked in occupations relying on the "male model of employment participation".
That meant long hours, unbroken hierarchical careers and geographical mobility. Women continue to be in the minority in natural sciences, engineering and technology, despite increases in numbers in the past ten years.
"There is clearly a role conflict for women and it is important to realise that a mother's relationship to the labour market can be influenced by social policy," Ms Blackwell said.