A Rock and a Hard Place? The Career-Minded and the Issue of Family

In the last hundred years, America (and many other parts of the world) has made huge social gains, particularly in the area of equality. Gender is one area where the gap has been reduced. More women are working now than ever before, and certainly more are pursuing “careers” instead of just jobs. If men and women are both working, I guess that begs the question: Who takes care of the kids?

I started thinking about this the other day, after my roommate mentioned a survey that was done in her sociology class. Men and women were asked what their job hours would look like should they decide to have a family. 68% of women said they would keep a full-time job, while 28% would stop working or reduce their hours. 4% said they wouldn’t have kids.

In contrast, 100% of the men said they wouldn’t change their hours once they started a family. I began thinking: if many people meet their future spouse in college, and this poll were to be representative of the Penn population, about 28% of the marriages between Penn alum would consist of a man who plans on keeping a full-time job, and a woman who’s willing to accommodate for the kids. But what about that other 68% of women? Are we looking at a lot of cat ladies or childless couples? And should it have to be that way?

After looking at my own experiences so far as a career-oriented young woman, some input from college guys, and even a little Google-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that while progress is being made, women are still finding themselves sandwiched between family and career.

I’ll start with the college guys. I asked various college guys I know (via Facebook) to tell me a bit about whether or not family factors into how they perceive their future career goals. The range of answers was surprising, and of course disproved the idea that 100% of all men actually want a full-time job when they have children.

The majority seemed to say that family was a consideration, and a few even mentioned having chosen their areas of study based on what would bring family stability. A few responded that family wasn’t at all a consideration, and one actually put it as his main consideration in forming his career goals.

The men I talked to were overall more family oriented than I had expected… Which leads me to a little hard data. After doing some Googling on the subject, I found an article from CNN that says that more men are actually becoming stay-at-home dads in recent years. The articles cites that this may be in part to the sour economy, but in many cases the women are still out working while the men are at home. I was surprised by this. I know that traditional gender roles have been shifting in years past but this was still not what I expected.

Based on both my informal research and actual research, it’s clear that contrary to the sociology class’ survey, men are shifting their views toward family to accommodate the increasing tendency of women to be career-focused. While men’s views are shifting, women’s self-perceptions as how they function within the family unit don’t seem to be.

A study done by a Wharton professor which looked into the attitudes of various undergraduate graduating classes found that 64 percent of women in the 2012 class agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “The demands of family life will interfere with achieving success in my career,” versus only 26 percent of the men.

The tendency of women to feel trapped between professional and personal success isn’t just observable in studies. It’s something I think can be observed pretty easily, and this brings me back to my own experiences.

Yes, I’m a freshman in college. I’m certainly a couple years away from being able to call myself a career woman. But as a woman majoring in Economics (business!) with ambitions of working for big companies and climbing the corporate ladder someday, the question of family is something that causes me to squirm.

It’s not because I don’t want a family, don’t get me wrong. I want the white picket fence and the dog, the whole works. The part that makes me uncomfortable isn’t the “what,” but the “how.” Like many women around me, I often feel like all of the work I am doing right now to build my resume and career is going to eventually collide with this suburban vision of happiness, and I’m going to have to choose: work or family. I want both. I hope by the time I get there, I’ve found a way to do both, and do both well.

Obviously I’ve got a few years before this issue becomes pressing for me, but it’s something I find extremely interesting. Women or men, please comment below. Do you think men are taking more of a role in familial affairs? Should they? How should a woman prioritize work and family?

Find my “sources” here:




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