Is It Worth Giving Up Your 20′s For The Financial Payoff Of Finance?

At a dinner party a few years ago on a Sunday evening, two of the guests, both 20-something women who worked on Wall Street, had to leave halfway through cocktail hour because they were called back to work on a deal that could not wait. One of the women’s mothers, who happened to be a physician, was also there and said to another doctor, “Doesn’t this remind you of being on call as a young resident? It is like they are doctors.” The man whom she said this too nodded and smiled. Later he pulled me aside and said, “It is sort of like they are doctors, except I was operating on people and they are pushing money around.”

The sacrifices that young doctors and young people in finance have to make for their jobs, time wise, are similar. However, to equate the two careers seems to be a bit of a reach. Doctors know those two to six rough years of being residents are part of the ultimate goal of being either a doctor or a surgeon in the specialty of their choice. And unlike young people in finance, they are making anywhere between $32,000 and $48,000 and they often have eight years of debt on their plates. But are young people in finance thinking the time I am giving up is worth it because I want to sit at the head of the trading floor someday? Are women, who do not have many female role models to serve as examples in the finance industry, thinking this is worth the trade off or do they just view it as a necessary step to make a lot of money so they can do what they really want to?

According to a recent survey from Capstone, 67% of the 2,000 associates and vice presidents interviewed, do not feel they are being compensated the correct amount for the sacrifices they are making, such as 100-hour work weeks, canceled vacations, etc. One investment banker who participated in the survey described a breach of the “tacit understanding” that he or she would be well compensated. “This business has to be more rewarding,” the person said, according to Capstone. “It’s been a rough couple of years for them,” Rik Kopelan, managing partner at Capstone. “Fewer and fewer plan on making it a career, because they’re working these long hours and not getting paid as well as they were.”

Since 2000, the number of women between the ages of 20 and 35 working in finance has dropped by 315,000, or 16.5%, while the number of men in that age range grew by 93,000, or 7.3%. The number of women entering finance-industry jobs at age 20 to 24 fell 21.8% over the past decade. This exodus from finance may indicate that more women are realizing that the financial pay off is not worth it. Joan Shapiro Green, 66, a managing director at Bankers Trust and later president of BT Brokerage, a division of Deutsche Bank, said “Now, younger women are starting with the assumption that ‘Hey, I want to have a life.’”

A woman who works as an investment banker in New York City and finds herself working most weekends said:

“Oh, this is definitely not where I see myself being for the long haul. And the fact that all my bosses are men isn’t encouraging either. But is it worth it to work this hard at this point in my life and give up time with my friends and family or just having a weekend to myself so maybe in my 30′s I can take a breather and figure out my next step and have a really substantial chunk of money to help me figure it out? I don’t know. Sometimes it is yes, but on those really long days it is no. You can ask me when I am 35 and not married with no friends because I stopped speaking to them in my 20′s.”

A young woman who worked at Lehman Brothers before it went bankrupt was reprimanded for sitting on the floor during a conference meeting (there were no chairs) when she was in the summer training program. She had to have a meeting with Human Resources and the HR rep said she was very disappointed in the young woman because this was a terrible way for her to start her career.

It didn’t upset me that this woman was yelling at me for such a stupid thing but the fact that this woman thought this was my career, that this was what I wanted to do with my life really stuck with me.

The young woman continued on with the firm for a few years but left to start her own web-based start-up, which had always been her goal in the back of her mind. Her co-founder had entered her job in finance with the same viewpoint.

But are those years of never having a break and missing out on family and friends’ lives worth it to pursue something in your 30′s? Many of the women driving the entrepreneurial scene in New York as well as Silicon Valley are former Wall Streeters, such as Eunice Chou and Sheri caplan. Monica Murphy and Becca Brown, the founders of SoleMates and former Goldman Sachs alums, said their time in finance prepared them to be unprepared. Another female i-banker who intends to open a bakery in ten years said:

Sometimes I do want to cry when I think about how much I work and the time I am losing at a job but I will have a really nice nest egg that I earned myself in a few years. I won’t need to count on anything else and I think that is the ultimate award.

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    • anonymous

      Finance doesn’t necessarily have to take over your life. My father worked in finance in the 80s and 90s and made managing director in the private equity division of a major firm before he was 35 — all while raising a family. The only time I didn’t feel like I saw him enough when he was working AND enrolled in school full-time. Otherwise, he was home for dinner about three worknights a week, on average, and he never worked weekends. I guess the catch would be that he also got into work at 6 am, which isn’t fun for a typical single 20-something; he also wasn’t advancing in his career at a time when people were expected to be connected 24/7. However, my point is that it is possible to set boundaries and accomplish other, non-work related goals (in my father’s case, having a family) all while being highly successful in finance.

    • anonymous

      Finance doesn’t necessarily have to take over your life. My father worked in finance in the 80s and 90s and made managing director in the private equity division of a major firm before he was 35 — all while raising a family. The only time I didn’t feel like I saw him enough when he was working AND enrolled in school full-time. Otherwise, he was home for dinner about three worknights a week, on average, and he never worked weekends. I guess the catch would be that he also got into work at 6 am, which isn’t fun for a typical single 20-something; he also wasn’t advancing in his career at a time when people were expected to be connected 24/7. However, my point is that it is possible to set boundaries and accomplish other, non-work related goals (in my father’s case, having a family) all while being highly successful in finance.

      • Jenice

        Yeah, that was in the 80s and 90s. Times have changed.

    • Shirley

      Why is this a female-specific topic? I don’t think men question “giving up their 20s” to have financial security – that is how they were brought up. Working in high-paid but high-pressure jobs post-graduation are a rite of passage for successful men and that should be no different for women.
      It is no wonder that there are few women mentors in finance when women continue to question the necessity of making sacrifices in order to achieve success in their fields.
      Investment banking is a warped industry for young college grads but women and men go though the same shit – I hope more women will stick it out so as to not let the pattern of inequity continue.

      • CW

        Men don’t have a biological clock ticking as hard as women do. It’s pretty easy for a man in his mid-30′s to decide to settle down and start a family. Not so much for women in their mid-30′s.

    • CW

      It also really depends on which part of the financial services industry in which one works. I-banking is notorious for ridiculously long hours. That’s a big reason why my DH switched to equity research as soon as he got his b-school loans paid off. He doesn’t make as much as he likely would’ve had he stayed in i-banking but he’s working a LOT fewer hours.