The recent Atlantic article by Anne-Marie Slaughter revived an ongoing conversation about women’s efforts to balance work and family in their lives.  Unfortunately, new data from the Pew Research Center suggests that striking a happy balance is increasingly out of reach.  This is because the value women place on both parenting well and having a successful career is growing.  In other words, women’s expectations are rising.

Interestingly, men’s expectations are rising, too, increasing the degree to which their desires might conflict, but to a somewhat lesser degree.

Let’s look at the data.

Young women between 18 and 34 are more likely to say that a successful career is “very” or “one of the most important things” in their life last year, compared to 1997.  The percentage has gone up 10 percentage points for women, while it went up only one point for men.

Young women are also more likely to say that being a good parent is “one of the most important things.”  Up a whopping 17 percentage points since 1997. This desire has risen significantly for men, too; 47% of men now say that parenting is very important, compared to 39% in 1997.

Since 1997, then, men have revised their expectations for parenting up, while their interest in work has remained more or less steady.  Women have raised their expectations for both and, generally, report higher life expectations than men.  That is, men are less likely than women to be interested in either a family or a career.

It will be interesting to see how public policy responds to these raised expectations, if at all. The U.S. is notoriously stingy when it comes to helping families balance these competing pressures, as this post on paid parental leave illustrates.  The time bind, though, is tightening and something will have to give.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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