Young Women Are More Career Ambitious Than They Were In 1997

According to new research from the Pew Center, more young women are now saying that achieving success in a high paying career is important to them than it was in 1997 and more than men today. But though these women are ambitious when it comes to their careers, the still prioritize having a family and marriage. Basically women are trying to have it all and don’t want to give up on anything.

Two-thirds (66%) of young women ages 18 to 34 rate career high on their list of life priorities, compared with 59% of young men. In 1997, 56% of young women and 58% of young men felt the same way.

But it isn’t only young women that are ambitious. The past 15 years have also seen an increase in the share of middle-aged and older women who say being successful in a high-paying career or profession is “one of the most important things” or “very important” in their lives. Today about the same share of women (42%) and men (43%) ages 35 to 64 say this. In 1997, more middle-aged and older men than women felt this way (41% vs. 26%).

In 2010, women made up almost half of the labor force (46.7%). In 1997, women made up 46.2% of the labor force, and back in 1970 women made up only 38.1% of the labor force.When the recession started or man-cession it was assumed that women were going to surpass men in employment but by 2009 they took a bad hit too. Women are also still earning less than men.

But if you thought this meant these career-driven women were less concerned about family, then you were wrong. The share who place marriage and parenthood high on the list of priorities is undiminished. For both men and women, being a good parent and having a successful marriage remain much more important than career success. The shares of working-age women and men who say having a successful marriage is “one of the most important things” or a “very important” thing in their lives exceed 80% now, just as they did in 1997. In fact, the share of women ages 18 to 34 who say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives has risen nine percentage points since 1997, from 28% to 37%.

But even though young women are still prioritizing raising a family, adults today are marrying at lower rates and later ages than ever before—only a third (33%) of 18- to 34-year-old women are now married, compared with nearly three quarters (73%) of women this age in 1960. The median age for first marriage is now 27 for women, up from 20 in 1960. But this study helps debunk the selfish career woman myth which is that women only care about their jobs and don’t want children at all.  It really isn’t that these women are saying I am too obsessed with my career to have children, it is more that they haven’t found the right man to have a child with that delays having a family.


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    • Lastango

      Meredith, you write “It really isn’t that these women are saying I am too obsessed with my career to have children, it is more that they haven’t found the right man to have a child with that delays having a family.”

      That difficulty may also partly account for women’s increasing focus on establishing a well-paying career for themselves. Here’s a study suggesting this orientation may be rational economic behavior, driven by the availability of eligible men:

      The article concludes with the words, “If a good man is hard to find, you’d better find a good job.”

      Other practical factors may add fuel to the fire. For example, employment and income are less stable than formerly, and lots of families have had the experience of one or both wage-earners losing a job or of having hours, commissions, and benefits cut back. Debt use to subsidize lifestyle has exploded, and supporting onerous payments while having minimal savings is a reality for many people.

      In this hard new world, having just one wage-earner while the other stays home and raise the family is looking more and more like a fantasy.