Perceptions of Barriers to Motherhood: Female STEM PhD Students’ Changing Family Plans

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access | Ahead of Print | Last Modified: 7 June 2022

Perceptions of Barriers to Motherhood: Female STEM PhD Students’ Changing Family Plans


  • Veronika Paksi Institute for Sociology, Centre for Social Sciences, Hungary / Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Szeged, Hungary
  • Beáta Nagy Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
  • Katalin Tardos Institute for Sociology, Centre for Social Sciences, Hungary / International Business School, Hungary


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Abstract:  Despite recent pronatalist policies in Hungary, the country has not boosted birth rates at the expected rate. Higher educated women still delay the transition to first birth, a smaller proportion of planned children are born than in Western European countries, and the level of childlessness has also been increasing. As a post‐socialist legacy, prevailing traditional family and gender norms strongly constrain the reconciliation of work and family roles, which can prevent women from realizing their childbearing intentions or drive them to live a childfree life. Qualitative studies about how the fertility decisions of women are formed are scarce, particularly in relation to male‐dominated high‐skilled professions, where the realization of family plans can be especially challenging. The present article explores the barriers to motherhood among female engineers. Results of 27 semi‐structured interviews with mainly childless female PhD students in 2014–2015 show that the women were subject to strong social expectations that negatively influenced their fertility plans. On the family side, these involve becoming a mother and being responsible for child care and household chores; on the work side, challenges include the knowledge‐intensiveness of jobs and a male career model that hardly tolerates the role of motherhood. As a result, the respondents had further delayed childbearing, forecast reconsidering family plans after first childbirth, and in one case, opted for voluntary childlessness. Women also reflected on how their fertility is at stake due to their postponed motherhood and the cumulative effects of hazardous laboratory work. Several intervention points are suggested to stakeholders.

Keywords:  delayed motherhood; fertility; higher educated women; PhD education; pronatalism; STEM

Published:   Ahead of Print

Issue:   Fragile Pronatalism? Barriers to Parenthood, One-Child Families, and Childlessness in European Post-Socialist Countries (Forthcoming)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v10i3.5250


© Veronika Paksi, Beáta Nagy, Katalin Tardos. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.