Survey results put women back at square one

October 04, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

A RECENT FRONT-PAGE STORY IN The New York Times, written by a student at an Ivy League college, reported that many women at Ivy League colleges have already decided that they will "put aside their careers in favor of raising children."

Louise Story, a graduate of Yale and the Columbia School of Journalism and presently a graduate student at Yale, retooled her master's thesis for a hot-button trend story while working at the Times this summer, and it was published last month.

She reported that 60 percent of the Yale students who responded to her e-mail query said that "when they had children, they planned to cut back on work or stop working entirely."

Story wrote that the women hoped that their rigorous college education would prepare them for "meaningful part-time jobs" when their children were young.

Quoting a Yale professor in American history, Story offered this explanation: "The women today are, in effect, turning realistic."

For those of us who were part of the first wave of women to go to college to find a career instead of a husband and part of the first wave to combine a career with family life, the article contained the unpleasant echo of the job interviews we endured while clutching our freshly minted diplomas.

It was assumed that we would have babies and leave our jobs, making us an employment risk when compared to a guy with the same credentials.

With the weighty evidence of a front-page story in The New York Times that young women only plan to hang around for a couple of years, why should any employer give these young women an opportunity? We are right back where we were 30 years ago.

What's more, why should Yale and Harvard and Princeton give classroom space to these young women? Why not give the opportunity of an elite education to someone who is likely to do more with it than look for meaningful part-time work?

This article infuriated me for all these reasons and for one more.

It reduced one of the most complicated balancing acts in modern life - that of a woman who has a career and a family - to the musings of a handful of silly girls who appear to have gone to college to find a husband who can support them while they stay home with the kids.

Story quotes a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who hopes to become a lawyer but who plans to stay at home with her children until they are in school: "I've seen the difference between kids who did have their mother stay at home and kids who didn't and it's kind of like an obvious difference when you look at it."

How insufferable.

It may be that on some level these naive young women recognize that while women have been given an equal shot at a fancy education and an equal shot at the good jobs, the corporate and social structures that might allow them to combine work and family smoothly are still not there.

In that way, not much has changed in 30 years. And neither has the likelihood of divorce. But certain economic facts have changed, and increasingly it takes two incomes to maintain the most unadorned middle-class life.

Story reported that a major factor shaping the attitudes of these young women seemed to be their experiences with their own mothers. She reported that three out of five did not work at all, took several years off or worked only part-time.

I fully expect my son and daughter to make decisions about working motherhood that are deeply colored by their experience of me. It may be that neither sees me as a full partner in their financial support or as a successful professional and mother.

It could be that they will only remember me as crabby and at my wits' end.

But if I had been Story, I would have asked a couple of extra questions on my e-mail survey: Is Dad picking up the entire tab for your elite education? Is that true for your roommate and for the rest of the girls in your dorm?

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