Why Millennial Working Mothers Are Leaning Sideways
On July 22, 2015, The New York Times analyzed a variety of surveys on the career paths of millennial working mothers.
The researchers found that, unlike the previous generation, today's working mothers are prioritizing jobs with flexible schedules over promotions, and many are factoring pauses into their careers in order to dedicate time to raising a family.
There was a time when working mothers faced, broadly speaking, two paths: They could either dedicate themselves fully to their careers, or they could become full-time, stay-at-home mothers. But these studies, conducted by Harvard Business School and the Wharton School, conclude that working women today are neither leaning in nor leaning out. Instead, they’re choosing to lean sideways.
It seems that while Baby Boomers and Generation X were preoccupied with shattering glass ceilings and achieving equality in the workplace, millennials have chosen to place work-life balance at the top of their priorities. One poll of Harvard Business School alumni found that "by age 30, nearly half of the women in the Harvard study who were married said they had chosen a job with more flexibility, 26 percent had slowed down the pace of their career and nine percent had declined a promotion because of family responsibilities," according to the Times. In another HBS survey, 66 percent of millennial women said they believed their careers would be equal to those of their spouses, a portion considerably lower than the 79 percent of Baby Boomer women who said the same.
Why are women's career expectations suddenly on the decline? One reason may be the slow advancement on equal-pay initiatives. Before the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, women were making about 61 cents to every dollar a man made. Baby Boomers had every reason to believe equality would soon be within reach. But in 2015, the discrepancy in salaries has improved only to about 77 cents for every dollar. With the pay gap closing far more slowly than women had hoped it would, it makes clear economic sense, in many cases, for women to re-prioritize their career goals.
Add to this the rising cost of child care in the United States, and the ability to work from home becomes increasingly appealing. The average cost of child care at day care centers is $11,666 per year, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies; in New York City, the average is $16,250. (The cost of a full-time nanny is, of course, even more exorbitant.) By seeking jobs with more flexible schedules, millennial mothers are choosing to earn less, so that they might spend more time at home, perhaps saving more money in the long term.
Leaning sideways — putting the corporate ladder aside to make room for a flexible work-life balance — may be a tactic that more men, too, opt for in the future. The Times reports that 13 percent of millennial men said they expect their careers to be interrupted for children, up from four percent of Generation X men, and 3 percent of Baby Boomers. Will career pauses increasingly become a shared responsibility between both parents, and not just a burden relegated to working mothers? Let's hope.
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