My wife and I are international students planning on applying for PhD programs in the US (at nearby universities, post-bachelor's, stat/AI/ML area). We would like to know how manageable it would be to have kids while in the middle of our PhD programs. This is different from similar questions that have been asked before because:

  • Both parents are international students on F-1 visas and hence may not have certain privileges that US citizens have (such as having family nearby to help with childcare)

  • Both parents will be doing PhDs (as opposed to one doing a PhD and the other being a stay-at-home parent)

The manageability would primarily rest on the financial support needed (our PhD salaries for TA-ships + some financial aid from our home country + possibly salary earned from internships during the PhD) and the childcare help needed (we don't have family nearby but one of our parents could come to the US on a tourist visa). I suppose the role of the wife's advisor will also be important since they would have to be sympathetic towards her taking some period of maternity leave off the PhD. Any perspective on this, especially from people who have had kids during their PhDs, would be greatly appreciated.

  • W.r.t. (a), I would venture that the vast majority of US citizens are in grad school far from family. At least in my own dept., that number would be about 4%. Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 21:36
  • Different but related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/45855/… Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 8:46
  • Let's keep this question about the US; discussion about the possibility of studying in Europe instead has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 20:25
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    Another factor to consider: small children get sick a lot, specially once they start going to daycare. That means parents get sick too, and will be unavailable often, at unpredictable times.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 21:19

8 Answers 8


Being an immigrant, having gone through graduate school and having had one child, this question throws up all kinds of red flags for me.

  1. Grad school is not a 40 hr/wk job. It's closer to 60 hr/wk, which will already put a great strain on your relationship with your partner. If you are in a hot field like stats or ML, your hours could be even longer. Children and partners require time, where will that time come from?
  2. It is possible for one of your visas to be cancelled or one of your visa statuses to change in some other way that requires one of you to leave the country. If you have a child, you will then have to decide if the child stays or goes, which will bring innumerable complications either way.
  3. The first 15-18 months of a new child will be harrowing, with much crying, many sleepless nights and constant, inescapable stress. I really, genuinely thought grad school had prepared me for having a child, but the latter was more difficult.
  4. When childcare stress increases, it will probably be your wife who steps up first, probably at the cost of her grad school progress. This will create new stress in your relationship. Eventually, she may get too tired or just unhappy with the imbalance and you will have to take on a greater share of the childcare. Now, you have a problem with your wife and your grad school progress will also take a hit.
  5. Children are not a model that can be tuned and left to work on their own. They require time every day, and especially so in the first years of their lives. If they do not get that time when they're young, it will affect them for the rest of their lives. There is simply no way around this. To some degree, you can make up for mistakes when they're younger as they get older, but it will require much more time and effort than if they had gotten the time they needed when they were young.

To be fair, I knew people who had kids in grad school, but it was always only one parent who was enrolled, and/or they had a lot of external support (church or family) and/or they were able to retain some time for their family.

Two parents who are both enrolled, both at risk of having to leave at a moment's notice, without any guaranteed external support..., it sounds like a very high risk venture with potentially catastrophic consequences. I would advise against it in the strongest possible terms.

  • Thanks for the post! Regarding 1, does the flexibility of grad school after the first year make a difference? As in work hours spent on research could be put in at any available time of the day as opposed to the fixed work hours of a regular job? Also for 2), is it likely that F-1 status could change within the 5 year duration of the PhD? Regarding 3,4,5, is it likely that these issues could be reduced in the case of parents doing regular jobs? Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 19:06
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 21:46
  • 1
    @YuprikYuprik In answer to your follow-up comment, as I said, I knew families where one parent was a PhD student and the other a stay-at-home parent. The ones that had external support were stressed but made it. The ones that didn't have external support left permanent psychological scars on their kids that made them never want to do it again. If you and your partner are serious about PhD study and starting a family, I would suggest getting the PhDs first, finding jobs, solidifying your immigration statuses, and then starting a family. It would be much easier and less risky.
    – matmat
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 6:33
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    Comments were moved to chat; they can't be moved twice, so the second time around they just get deleted instead.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 15:18

It does not matter what stage you are at in your career; having children is going to make your career harder.

Having children while you are young is likely to be physically easier.

It is highly unlikely that unpaid maternity leave would be denied. Paid maternity leave is unlikely (in the US).

Financial circumstances vary greatly. Let's consider two scenarios.

  • The near-best-case scenario is to get two $45,000 engineering PhD stipends at Stanford. The university provides you a two bedroom apartment for $30,000/year. The university provides a $20,000 grant for child care, but it costs $32,000/year. You pay substantial income tax. It probably works out okay.
  • You get two $13,000 psychology PhD stipends at University of Nebraska - Lincoln. A two bedroom apartment is $10,000/year. Health insurance is $6600/year. Childcare is $12,500/year. To survive in Lincoln, you have to have a car. You need a third PhD student in your family to make this work.

Do not rely on a tourist visa for child care until that visa has been issued. While the B-2 visa is issued for visiting family, visas can be denied simply because the applicant has family in the US. There is a maximum stay.

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    You're not going to see too many stipends below $13K, but there are definitely places with $13K stipends and higher costs of living. Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 0:49
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    to make your career harder? You are an extremely optimist person, having children makes your life harder! Disclaimer: I am not joking, I have offsprings and grand offsprings, in retrospect I would still complicate my life exactly the same way.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 9:45
  • Assuming that financial circumstances work out, I wonder what your take would be on the childcare aspect of the proposition (given that both parents would be working mainly at home)? Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 21:24
  • I do not see why you would think you would be working mainly at home for a job you don't have yet. The only benefit of working from home is you do not have to commute. Working from home does not enable you to do something other than work at the same time you work. Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 17:51

I think there are very few universities left in the US that have subsidized housing for married students. If you were at such a place, with a dense core of married students living together, the childcare situation would be easier (my situation - previous century) as some spouses would be happy to do that for a small charge. Otherwise, childcare would be a big expense, potentially.

The advisor problem and maternity leave can probably be managed in a field like math, but possibly harder if constant presence in a scientific lab is required.

Some universities might provide subsidized day-care for children, but not infants. Also make sure that the health insurance enables what you want to do. That isn't obvious in the US as we don't have a national health plan comparable to, say, UK.

But, being in the same department (starting with bachelors degrees) will cause a scheduling issue as the early years of most programs are heavily course oriented and you would probably need to be in the same course at the same time - adding to the childcare issue. The purpose of the (advanced) courses is to get you through qualifying exams, so they aren't optional and there may not be a lot of flexibility unless you were off-by-one in years, with one of you starting a year earlier than the other. But that might bring up visa issues.

At different universities you will have a transportation problem unless you are either wealthy or live in a place with good public transport, which is rare and which also implies high housing costs. A lot of the US is very dependent on cars for transport.

With two TA positions finances should be generally fine, but scheduling worse.

I read this that you don't already have kids. If you can delay that for a few years it would be much easier and, with a couple or three years of experience, you will be in a better position to make a decision and to recognize the issues.

Once you reach the dissertation stage in statistics, I'd guess that the situation changes as you can think and work everywhere and anywhere, even with kids about. Also, if you are the male partner, plan on sharing the childcare burden.

Long ago it was much easier. I had two kids by the time I finished, but we were on the safe side of all the issues I brought up (and not international students). My spouse started studies later than I did. We were in subsidized on-campus housing (very cheap) and we were surrounded by lots of others (including international students) in similar circumstances. We were also in different fields so had different schedules.

  • 2
    Just on the can-you-wait-a-few-years-for-kids question: if there is a tight window for having children due to medical circumstances, maybe it would be better for for the woman to avoid signing up for a doctoral programme just now but to do all the preparatory grad-level courses possible till the husband's work is well in hand.
    – Trunk
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 12:13
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    But I suppose doing this would mean having just one stipend going into the household, rather than two . . . which is not viable for maternity bills, medical insurance and all that. But the place I was at in UK gave extra for dependents and other qualifications to allow equality of opportunity to maturer people. 37.5% for a wife, 12.5% for each child. Also it allowed extra 25% for MS holders and 12.5% for each year of work experience to a maximum of 3 years. So a few Middle East students had cars and wives as doing an MS there was seen as a salaried job with assistant professor title.
    – Trunk
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 13:16
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    Yes, exactly that, though with a TA, you still might need to deal with schedules depending on what your duties are. But in statistics, I assume you can work alone with periodic consultations with the advisor.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 19:18
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    Note that none of what @Trunk describes for UK is likely available in the US, though medical insurance might be for doctoral students with TAs. And, I think they were referring to doctoral student stipends, not MS level. Maybe a clarification is in order. Note "MS holding" means post masters and spouses doing masters doesn't imply funding necessarily. I used to be aware of students from some countries driving "hot beemers", but they were already very wealthy and unlikely supported by the university. Many were actually undergrads.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 19:19
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    That university was a very different type of institution in that the campus was entirely postgraduates. (Its primary degree content was delivered remotely with regional tuition support to the frequently working students.) The additional stipends to postgrads was to give mature/married/experienced people a financially viable means of pursuing advanced degrees. The percentages quoted are not so impressive if you consider the baseline grant was just $100 equivalent a week in those days. But be under no illusion: you will not find another institution that offers anything like this.
    – Trunk
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 21:27

The career story in the most recent issue of Science (Oct 28, 2022) is coincidentally very relevant to this. It's from a married couple in academia that eventually ended up working together in the same institution while still maintaining separate labs. They've used their situation to support couples in your situation. The story is here: Better Together (I don't think it is paywalled).

My point: you may want to consider looking for advisors that are married and work in your field. They'll understand and be more sympathetic to your situation. Combined, they also might have more financial flexibility to get both of you hired together.

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    One of those one in a million stories that media people love to tell. But reality is quite different most of the time. The couples are in a weak position to argue anything with their bosses. Which may suit the latter. And this scenario seems wide open to discrimination challenge by disappointed uncoupled applicants.
    – Trunk
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 0:47

I had two kids during my PhD program, my spouse was a stay-at-home parent during this time.

I would strongly recommend looking at what support your target graduate schools have for parents/new parents. This varies greatly between schools. I went to Princeton for grad school, which provided 12 weeks leave for a new primary parent (new mother, primary caregiver of newly adopted kid) and an additional semester of funding for the primary parent, among other things. They've expanded financial support for students with children since I was there, and it's even better now.

I'm not saying this to say that Princeton should be a school you should choose (there are lots of factors going into that), but just providing an example of what at least one school does provide. (And I acknowledge that Princeton has more financial resources than many schools to be able to provide these things.)

And also, even though the school provided this support and required an advisor to be okay with it, that didn't mean that every advisor on campus would've been okay with it. I didn't hear any stories to this end (which is a good thing), but I imagine some advisors may be resentful to have a student take 12 weeks off even if the university is financially supporting them during that time.

With my spouse staying at home, we never had to look really hard at childcare options. But from what we have seen and heard, on-campus childcare options that would've been available to us skew towards the higher end of costs of all available childcare, on and off campus. But where we were at, public transportation options were limited, so those who used off-campus child care and didn't have cars spent a lot of time transporting everyone even for relatively nearby places.

Cost of living should be a major consideration. Having children means that your housing, food, and transportation costs will be more than your child-free counterparts, and locations with higher costs of living will only compound that effect. Living in New Jersey was expensive and so our housing options were extremely limited (we had to live in low-quality and small on-campus housing), while if we had gone to some other schools we probably could've rented a much larger place, maybe even a single-family house. There were reasons we made the choice we did, but different choices would've had different advantages financial-wise.

By the best study we could put together, we estimated about 4% of grad students at my university had children. There are disadvantages that come with that. We would have friends get Child Protective Services called on them by student neighbors for just normal kid crying, and a lot of students were more annoyed by the presence of children on campus and in housing than anything else. Other universities will have larger fractions of grad students with children, and I imagine will have fewer of these problems.

And in the end, I would advise at least one of you to visit the university and department(s) you'll be at. My wife was pregnant at the time that I was invited to visit departments who had accepted me, and I asked lots of questions about family support at such. The department I ultimately chose had lots of positive things to say and show about being okay with grad students having kids, and that played out in practice. My advisor was supportive of my having children, they would come visit me in my office regularly and it was never awkward, and they were always welcome at department parties and other functions. I know not all departments on campus were like this.

In the end, I'm glad I didn't wait to have children until after grad school, but having them in grad school was much more difficult than I imagined it would be. Having both parents pursue PhDs simultaneously adds a whole other dimension of difficulty and complexity that I can't even imagine what that will be like.

My undergrad research advisor had kids after he finished his PhD. When I told him that we would be having a kid my first year of graduate school, he told me that he wishes he would've started having kids in graduate school. That's his experience, I can't say that that would be everybody's experience, and I don't think he and his spouse were pursuing simultaneous PhDs (they both do have PhDs).

In end, having kids in graduate school definitely decreased the quality of my research output. I performed well enough to graduate without problem, but I had trouble managing my time and mental energies in a way to be completely successful as both a parent and a developing scientist. But I don't regret that sacrifice to have my kids when I did. But it was a sacrifice to the quality of my PhD for me. And in the end, I took a different career path post-grad-school than I imagined pre-grad-school so that I could have a better work/life balance. I "left the field" as my academic colleagues would say, and in that sense having kids in grad school took me completely away from the academics of it all. But I don't (usually) regret that either.

From my experience only pursuing one PhD while having kids, I don't see how pursuing two PhDs while having kids is practicable, unless one of you is willing to be the "primary caregiver" and give much more sacrifice than the other as far as the quality of their PhD education, or you both end up with extremely understanding advisors and programs. And even with that, it's likely that your PhDs may take significantly longer than they would otherwise.

From the kids' perspective, they think those years in the dinky apartment with a busy dad were great, they don't look back on those years with any bad memories. They loved where we lived and the friends we had there, and they were so young the "bad" aspects, at least to me, didn't affect them very much.

  • Honest and interesting story.
    – Trunk
    Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 13:22
  • Suggestion: Regardless if embarking for Old Nassau, or not, I think the additional provision of a few links (at entry level) how child care at a grad school may look like could serve as a valuable reference to compare with: hr.princeton.edu/thrive/wellness-resources/child-care-resources (though I disagree with the address, child care is not wellness as in going to a spa), and about the building which by 2017 replaced the previous one just across Broadmead of about the same capacity (in numbers): princeton.edu/news/2017/09/14/…
    – Buttonwood
    Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 15:11
  • This is precisely the model of answer I was looking for. Thanks for relaying your personal experiences. In fact, this is one other option we were considering; I have a really high GPA and could probably get into a good grad school (certainly not as high as Princeton though) and my wife could come with me as a dependent, with the intention of having kids during the 5 years of my PhD and her pursuing a PhD afterwards. Perhaps this is what your undergrad advisor was thinking of. Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 20:01
  • ...I am glad to hear that there are places where one person's PhD salary could support a spouse and a baby. Is this at least somewhat common in the US or exclusively limited to schools like Princeton? Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 20:03
  • @YuprikYuprik, I wouldn't say the PhD salary supported my whole family. We had some savings, and a bit (not a lot) of early inheritance that came in, and we did end up slowly drawing on savings the five years we were there. Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 3:18

I'm writing from my own experience and that of several family members doing PhD's in various circumstances (all in the UK). I suggest that a key aspect you and your wife should consider is how many years you may spend on your PhD's. The combination of unforeseen difficulties with your research itself and balancing your time with family and other commitments will perhaps result in your taking much longer than you anticipate.

If that seems possible then three issues arise: a) Would that be acceptable to you, given that it may mean delaying the start of your subsequent careers with consequent financial implications? b) Would it be acceptable to your universities, or do they have rules or expectations about the timescale within which they expect a PhD to be completed? c) Would it fit with your visa conditions? I can't answer those questions for you, but I would suggest that if your answer to any of these is no so that you are committed to a fixed timescale then you may be taking on a very demanding challenge by embarking on PhD's in your circumstances.

  • As for the issues you raise: a) It would be acceptable for both of us as long as it covers expenses for a frugal lifestyle until the end of the PhDs, b) and c) I don't know this yet but I know grad student friends who got accepted for PhDs with 6 years of funding but ended up doing 7 instead (with funding). I guess as long as the extension of the timescale is within an year it should be manageable but I should look into this more. Thanks for the suggestion! Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 19:53

lol no way, I was being paid 24k/year, had no dependents and didn't pay rent and I was still living close to the poverty line in my area.


Modern man has lost all perspective

This is a variation on a question I encounter maybe once every year or two and it makes me cringe every time. People lived through the Great Depression in one or zero-bedroom houses and had families of six children while they scraped for work and food. People lived in the middle ages labouring in fields all day without running water or a working sanitation system and they had families of ten children. People lived in bondage in the Roman and Persian empires and managed to pump out a few children in between whippings. People lived in caves before the wheel or language was invented and had families. So yes, this same feat is manageable for two parents in the modern world living on a leafy university campus and doing academic research while sipping chai-lattes.

The point is, there is no perfect time to have children and there is no time at which conditions are so adverse that it is infeasible to have children. The entire history of the human race attests to these facts. If you want to have a family, have a family. If it matters, I went through my PhD while raising two young daughters. I was in different situation since I was a single parent (so one person doing PhD instead of two, but same essential issue). Raising children while doing a PhD full-time is not trivial, but it is probably no more difficult than raising children while working a full-time job. It is manageable and enjoyable if you are sensible about the trade-offs and make appropriate arrangements with supervisors, etc. to ensure that you are able to respond to childcare requirements. You will probably find that you need to work some nights after the children go to bed. With two people you will have the ability to juggle child-rearing duties to help each other out when needed.

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    "People lived through the Great Depression in one or zero-bedroom houses and had families of six children while they scraped for work and food" this is hardly a healthy or desirable way to live and clearly something OP is trying to avoid. By ignoring the implied requirement of wanting to not live in poverty/hardship this does not answer the question and is not a useful answer.
    – ljden
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 5:55
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    The point is, there is no perfect time to have children and there is no time at which conditions are so adverse that it is infeasible to have children. * correct. * People lived through the Great Depression in one or zero-bedroom houses and had families of six children while they scraped for work and food. wrong, Great Depression heroes did not have a choice, here we have someone that is dreaming of pursuing a PhD and do not want to end up enjoying the Great Depression lifestyle. I understand that science require sacrifice, but OP is doing a very reasonable (and rare) assesment!
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 8:46
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    You are aware that the 'success rate of raising children' in your examples was often on the order of 50% or even lower? Meaning families had 4, 6 or even more children precisely because they knew many would die before becoming adults and you needed that many to bring up 2 children all the way to adulthood.
    – quarague
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 9:58
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    @Ben In all the cases you cite, people lived in communities where free shared childcare was available. In all historical situations where shared childcare was not available, most children died of malnutrition. The lucky ones had surviving older children whose early childhood consisted of looking after the younger children and later working 16 hours a day alongside their parents. I regularly see people posting what you've just said, and it makes me cringe every time. If you're going to cite historical examples, know enough history to present them correctly.
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 10:21
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    As a data scientist, you do know about selection bias, don’t you Ben? The problem with the “our ancestors survived [X], so can you - we have lost all perspective etc” argument is that the survivors of X you are taking as your purported proof that X can be survived are literally the ones who survived. What about those who didn’t? Or the ones who survived but at great cost to their and their children’s physical and mental well-being? Btw your argument could also be repeated with X being not wearing seat belts, smoking a lot of cigarettes, using leaded gasoline and paint, etc. …
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 18:31

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