Making the Choice Between Professional Career and Homemaking

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Thursday, November 15, 2001

Important Information for Young Women Making the Choice Between Professional Career and Homemaking
A new study1 from the Professional Women’s Institute reported that the average woman makes three very important personal decisions in her 20s and early 30s-whether to marry, to whom and whether to have children. That same period of time, according to the study, is when she is able to make the most significant strides up the professional ladder. The study offered the following advice for young women. “Today’s women have an endless array of options. They can decide to have children or not to have children. They can decide to be working mothers or become homemakers. Women today can be anything. The problem is, they cannot be everything. Along the road, women have to make choices. There is only a short period of time between graduating from college and having children. If goals are not reached before having children, it is unlikely that they will be met later on.”

“We would add that the personal risks are just as serious as the professional ones,” said Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, Executive Director and Senior Fellow of BLI. “By delaying marriage and childbearing, young women risk remaining single and childless,” Crouse continued. “Our data analyses indicate that professional women who remain single to focus on career advancement during their twenties and early thirties-the time when their careers typically take off-run the risk of being unable later to find a suitable man eligible and willing to commit to marriage. Young women should also be aware that childlessness among U.S. women near the end of their childbearing years (ages 40-44) has increased 90 percent (10% in 1976 to 19% in 1998). This means, according to some experts, that perhaps as many as 25 percent of today’s female college seniors will NEVER bear children.”

After presenting these sobering observations, there is good news in the Professional Women’s Institute report for women whether they work outside the home or work as full-time homemakers.

Good News for Homemakers. The recently released study found that nearly 80% of working mothers (79%) are jealous of homemakers, but women are rarely jealous of working mothers. Many (16%) of the women believe that their choices ultimately limit the amount of money they could be earning, but they feel satisfaction at having limited their income for their families.

Janet L. Skarbek, author of Planning Your Future: A Guide for Professional Women, neither recommends that working mothers quit their jobs nor that they stay home with their children. She also takes no position regarding whether working mothers’ guilt is warranted. Instead, she argues that women need to analyze their circumstances and beliefs to determine what is right for them. Skarbek says that women need to look at their beliefs and values carefully because their internal conscience will tell them when their situation is at odds with their beliefs about child rearing.

Good News for Professional Women. Two of Skarbek’s findings are significant. First, the study found that few professional college-educated women age 28-35 feel that they have been discriminated against, nor do they expect to encounter discrimination in the future. In fact, 94% of the study’s participants state that “neither discrimination nor a glass ceiling has held them back from achieving all that they could have by this point in their lives.”

These young women’s opinions are supported by a Department of Labor report2 indicating that women working between 35 and 39 hours a week earn 98% of what men earn working the same hours. Women working less than 35 hours a week earn more than men (111% of what men earn). The Department of Labor reported in 1998 that 26% of working women worked part time, compared to only 11% of working men who work part time.

End Notes

  1. Skarbek, Janet L., Planning Your Future: A Guide for Professional Women, Professional Women’s Institute, Cinnaminson, NJ., 2001. The study profiled a random sampling of one hundred well educated, non-minority women between the ages of twenty-eight and thirty-five who graduated from Villanova University.
  2. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics, “Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 1998,” Report 928 (April 1999). Note that the same report indicates that the wage gap generally grows with age. It indicates that the gap is smallest among workers ages twenty to twenty-four when women earn 92% of what men earn. By age fifty-five to fifty-nine, however, women earn 65% of what men earn.

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