In the 21st century society, copious research studies about factors associated with academic performance have documented contextual and social characteristics of students as significant factors (Klomegah, 2007), especially after the realization that one vehicle for facilitating career fulfillment is through advanced formal education, the basic prerequisites of which have progressively broadened from high school completion to earning an undergraduate degree to, in some core professions, acquiring a graduate degree (Gold, 2007).
While categorizing these factors into four broad categories of family, peers, school and community, Klomegah (2007) acknowledges that family-oriented factors such as low socioeconomic status, minority status, marital status as well as family involvement influence the academic performance of students. The present study is interested in one such family-oriented factor known as marital status and, through a review of existing literature and personal reflection, aims to demonstrate that married students show more competencies and efficacy in academic performance than their unmarried counterparts.
Definition of Concepts
For purposes of this study, married students are considered as a sub-group of non-traditional students, who are much older than the usual traditional students, attend school full-time or part-time, and are financially independent (Zajacova et al., 2005). According to this particular author, it is increasingly becoming important to focus on married and other nontraditional students because traditional students now account for fewer than half of all university students in America. Self-efficacy has been defined in the literature “as a self-evaluation of one’s competence to successfully execute a course of action necessary to reach desired outcomes” (Zajacova et al., 2005 p. 679). Academic performance, according to Francis et al (2004), is defined “as a student’s performance in grades and standardized tests” (p. 9).
Married Students & Academic Performance: Delineating the Evidence
This section introduces and discusses various constructs which, according to extant literature and personal reflection, demonstrate why married students show more competencies in academic performance. These constructs include locus of control and self efficacy, social responsibilities, physical and psychological well-being, as well as maturity, productivity and commitment.
Locus of Control & Self Efficacy
In his study on the predictors of academic performance of university students, Klomegah (2007) cites other previous studies to demonstrate that psychosocial factors such as locus of control and self efficacy are extremely important in predicting the academic performance of traditional and nontraditional university students. This author argues that while locus of control refers to the personal belief or conviction about the extent to which an individual’s behavior influences a specific outcome (in this case, academic performance), self-efficacy, on its part, denotes a personal judgment about one’s capacity to perform the required actions with the view to achieving the desired outcomes.
Available literature demonstrates that married students, by virtue of their age and experience in life, demonstrate a larger belief and confidence in their capacity to successfully undertake such academic activities as preparing for examinations and writing term papers (Zajacova et al., 2005).
My personal experience while pursuing my doctorate studies is in line with the assertions made by Klomegah (2007) and Zajacova (2005). Upon reflection of my academic competency across both scenarios of marital status, I can confidently say I am now able to perform better academically than I used to when I was not married as my age and experience in a multiplicity of issues have not only enhanced my motivation and persistence to master challenging academic tasks, but also fostered the efficient use of acquired knowledge and skills through a sustained locus of control and academic self-efficacy.
I am now able to study for more hours than I previously did when I was single, ostensibly due to the fact that marriage life coincides with immense development of locus of control and self-efficacy. In their research, Torres and Solberg (2001) cited in Zajacova (2005) found a positive correlation between the development of self-efficacy and the duration of time students spent learning for their academic fulfillment.
Opinion still remains divided about whether social responsibilities act as a trigger or a hindrance to the attainment of good grades for married students. While Carlin (2001) argues that most married students’ persistence to graduation is slower than that of younger unmarried students owing to their problem-centered approach and many life responsibilities, hence the need to allow this group of students to pace themselves for optimal results, other scholars (e.g., Mirzaei et al., 2012; Ryan et al., 2011) have positively correlated the many family and social responsibilities facing married students with demonstration of high level of maturity, readiness to learn, and a sense of urgency to pursue educational objectives, most of which are career related.
Price (2007) argues that “marriage might affect men and women differently because marriage places different demands on time and mobility of men and women” (p. 4). This author cites a study by Patterson and Sells (1973), which found that while single traditional or nontraditional students of either gender spend about equal time fulfilling their household responsibilities, married female graduates (traditional or nontraditional) were found to spend more time fulfilling these responsibilities than single traditional students.
While these assertions are valid to the extent that some university support services are now considering attending to the psychosocial needs of married graduate students so that they can all proceed in healthy ways toward the accomplishment of their educational dreams (Gold, 2006), my own personal experience as a married doctorate student shows that social responsibilities do not necessarily affect my academic performance in adverse ways.
Upon reflection of how I have been able to balance the social responsibilities of a married person with the demanding requirements of graduate school, I can say prioritizing the responsibilities and masterful allocation of time to each responsibility enhance the capacity of married students to become more competitive in the academic field. Additionally, owing to the fact that social norms and values within the institution of marriage have dramatically shifted since the 1970’s (Price, 2007), it is now possible for married students to organize their social responsibilities in a way that will facilitate their maturity and readiness to learn, rather than act as hindrances to academic fulfillment.
Physical and Psychological Well-being
Several studies (e.g., Steele & Fullagar, 2009; Stupnisky et al., 2013) have attempted to associate the physical and psychological wellbeing of students with their academic outcomes. In one of these studies, the authors found that physical and psychological wellbeing can serve as a potential signal of the capability of a student – single or married – to perform well in college (Steele & Fullagar, 2009). In yet another study, Shapiro and Keyes (2008) reported that a substantial body of research from the United States and abroad documents the considerable physical and psychological well-being benefits that married individuals have over their nonmarried counterparts, especially when it comes to goal-setting aimed at achieving specific outcomes.
These authors argue that “married adults report lower rates of mental illness and higher indicators of mental health than never married and previously married adults” (p. 329). When such benefits are perceived within the context of academic performance, it is only prudent to argue from the perspective that married students have more competencies and efficacy in academic performance than single students due to the fact that they enjoy higher levels of physical and psychological wellbeing than their counterparts.
Existing literature demonstrates that the advantages of marriage have been explicated through its rank as a structural form of social support; that is, it is seen as representing a social contract that brings people together in a close relationship that can be stress-resistant and socially integrative (Shapiro and Keyes, 2008). Additionally, these authors argue that “marriage purportedly confers social integration to its participants, providing them with a feeling of belonging and purpose” (p. 330). Consequently, the assertion that married students have a multiplicity of physical, psychological and social supports that may not be present in unmarried students is well rooted in the literature.
In analyzing my personal experience as a married doctorate student, I am deeply convinced by the fact that married students show more competencies and efficacy in academic performance than unmarried students owing to the mentioned supports, which go a long way to oil their physical, psychological and social wellbeing.
Although I previously felt that having children would compromise my academic ability in graduate school owing to huge demands associated with child rearing, I have come to realize that children not only reinforce my physical and psychological well-being but also assist me to stay focused on achieving my academic and career goals for their posterity. Other supports that have continued to reinforce my physical and psychological well-being, hence serving as key drivers to achieving optimal academic performance, include having a stable family and the financial independence associated with marriage.
Maturity, Productivity and Commitment
A strand of existing literature (e.g., Carlin, 2001; Mirzaei et al., 2012) acknowledges that married students are not only self-directed learners in the context of their age, maturity and reasoning, but also carry more to the classroom in terms of educational commitment and goals, leading to optimal academic performance when compared to younger, unmarried students. This view is reinforced by Price (2007), who suggests that married students are more prepared for college and indeed perform better than younger students owing to competencies associated with a valid demonstration of maturity and firm commitment to meet and potentially surpass the requirements set by various educational institutions.
While citing recent studies in spheres unrelated to higher education, Price (2007) argues that these studies provide explanations for the link between marriage and graduate student outcomes (academic performance) as they “show that married individuals are more productive, engage in less risky behaviors, are healthier, and experience higher levels of well-being” (p. 5). All these outcomes, in my view, are occasioned by the behavioral shifts that accompany marriage, and act to sharpen the competencies and efficacy of married students to perform better academically. Indeed, upon personal reflection of my educational journey up until now, I can say with a big measure of conviction that my marriage not only made me to become a deeply focused self-directed learner, but also a more committed and productive individual
This study has reviewed existing literature and analyzed personal experience of the author as a married doctoral student to demonstrate that married students show more competencies and efficacy in academic performance than their unmarried counterparts. Contrary to popular belief that marriage comes with huge demands and responsibilities that may adversely affect academic achievement, this study has documented evidence to show that these demands and responsibilities can be changed into core competencies and efficacy in academic performance, particularly at the graduate and doctorate level.
Although the author have used five constructs (locus of control and self efficacy; maturity, productivity and commitment; social responsibilities; and physical and psychological well-being) to prove the underlying argument, which is nested on the fact that married students perform better academically than unmarried students, more comprehensive studies need to be done to locate the constructs empirically and theoretically. This, in my view, can only be achieved by undertaking a quantitative study on the topic.
Carlin, P.E. (2001). Adult students and community college beginnings: Examining the efficacy of performance stereotypes on a university campus. College Student Journal, 35(2), 169-182.
Francis, A., Goheer, A., Haver-Dieter, R., Kaplan, A.D., Kerstetter, K., Kirk, A.L.M…Yeh, T. (2004). Promoting academic achievement and motivation: A discussion and contemporary issues based approach. Unpublished Thesis. University of Maryland. Web.
Gold, J.M. (2006). Profiling marital satisfaction among graduate students: An analysis of the perceptions of masters and doctoral students. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 28(4), 485-495.
Klomegah, R.Y. (2007). Predictors of academic performance of university students: An application of the goal efficacy model. College Student Journal, 41(2), 407-415.
Mirzaei, T., Oskouie, F., & Raffi, F. (2012). Nursing students’ time management, reducing stress and gaining satisfaction: A grounded theory study. Nursing & Health Services, 14(1), 46-51.
Price, J. (2007). Does a spouse slow you down?: Marriage and graduate student outcomes. Web.
Ryan, M., Barns, A., & McAuliffe, D. (2011). Part-time employment and effects on Australian social work students: A report on a national study. Australian Social Work, 64(3), 313-329.
Shapiro, A., & Keyes, C. (2008). Marital status and social well-being: Are the married always better off? Social Indicators Research, 88(2), 329-346.
Steele, J.P., & Fullagar, C.J. (2009). Facilitators and outcomes of student engagement in a college setting. Journal of Psychology, 143(1), 5-27.
Stupnisky, R.H., Perry, R.P., Renaud, R.D., & Hladkyj, S. (2013). Looking beyond grades: Comparing self-esteem and perceived academic control as predictors of first-year college students’ well-being. Learning & Individual Differences, 23(1), 151-157.
Zajacova, A., Lynch, S.M., & Espenshade, T.J. (2005). Self-efficacy, stress, and academic success in college. Research in Higher Education, 46(6), 677-706.