What to Expect when Graduate Student Couples Delay Expecting: A Qualitative Study

Atara Wertentheil, Fordham University


The current phenomenological study explored the lived experience of married graduate students who made a decision to delay childbearing primarily in order to prioritize one or both spouses’ educational pursuits as well as the impact of that decision and the decision-making process on couples’ relationship dynamics. Participants included 14 heterosexual, legally married graduate students and their spouses who self-identified as couples wanting to have children in the future but had currently made the decision to postpone childbearing because of educational pursuits. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with both spouses of the couple together. Brief individual follow-up phone interviews were also conducted. Data analysis was guided by Moustakas’ (1994) phenomenological analysis method and yielded 11 major themes: (1) Prioritize One Because All is None, (2) Limitations Due to Constraint of Resources, (3) One Delay Enmeshed With Another, (4) Implicit and Explicit Pressure from Family and Friends, (5) Emotionally Charged Topic, (6) Spousal Support, Unity, Respect, and Compromise as Comforts, (7) Check-In Chats, (8) Anxieties about Age, (9) Fear of Infertility and Regret, (10) Positivity from Preparations, Plans, and Visions for the Future, and (11) Suggestions for Improved Support from Programs and Faculty. Couples generally feel confident in their decision to postpone childbearing in order to successfully obtain their degrees. For now, spouses work to optimize their time together in order to strengthen their bonds and feel empowered by consistent support, sensitivity, and conversation surrounding this topic. Limitations, suggestions for follow-up research, and implications for counseling are discussed.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Counseling Psychology|Individual & family studies|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Wertentheil, Atara, "What to Expect when Graduate Student Couples Delay Expecting: A Qualitative Study" (2018). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10828709.