Why Don’t More Conservatives Get Ph.D.’s?

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education mentions some of the findings from a study done by a mixed-political-affiliation couple asking why conservatives don’t get Ph.D.’s as often as liberals. The couple, Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner issued their findings in a report titled, “Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don’t Get Doctorates.”

There was some evidence that the already overwhelming number of liberals and moderates in the professoriate (90%, the article says) is self-replicating, but that’s not where the Woessners focused their answer.

Instead the Woessners looked at differences in interests and personality. They found that in a variety of ways, conservative students were less interested than liberals in subject matter that often leads to doctoral degrees, and less interested in doing the kinds of things that professors spend their time doing.

I find this to be a little too convenient:

For example, liberal students reported valuing intellectual freedom, creativity, and the chance to write original work and make a theoretical contribution to science.

But this was interesting and plausible:

They outnumbered conservative students two to one in the humanities and social sciences—which are among the fields most likely to produce interest in doctoral study. Conservative students, however, put more value on personal achievement and orderliness, and on practical professions, like accounting and computer science, that could earn them lots of money.

And this stuck out to me the most:

The Woessners also found that conservative students put a higher priority than liberal ones on raising a family. That does not always fit well with a career in academe, where people often delay childbearing until after they earn tenure.

I find that to be fairly persuasive. I myself am about to enter my first year of marriage while working on a dissertation. It’s not likely to be easy. And I’ve seen others drop out of our Ph.D. (or other graduate) programs because of wife and marriage, baby carriage.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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