Choosing Career Over Children

Recent research done by the New York think tank the Center for Work-Life Policy, headed by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, has found that almost half, or 43 percent, of Generation X women (those born between 1965 and 1978) are childless.

The women surveyed, who ranged in age between 33 and 46 years old, were born during the height of the feminist movement. They grew to consider motherhood an obstacle to having a successful career. So they’ve put off having children — or avoided it entirely.

The strategy seems to be working, at least from a professional/career standpoint: 19 percent of those who participated in the study said they earn more than their husbands or partners, and 74 percent characterized themselves as ambitious. Though a number of women aren’t interested in having children, many do want to be moms but just find it too hard to balance raising kids with work. And many are afraid that once they get pregnant, their jobs will be affected.

Lead author Lauren Leader-Chivee studied 3,000 female and male college graduates in the U.S. and also looked at their counterparts in Britain. “We have found very similar trends in both countries,” she said.

Deborah Fryer, a 44-year-old documentary film maker and contributor to my book, TORN, has followed a path similar to the women surveyed and agrees with the findings.

“When I was in my twenties, I was only focused on finishing my PhD.  In my thirties, I dated a lot, but my true love was my new career as a documentary filmmaker, which took me all over the world,” says Fryer. “I thought I had all the time in the world.  I met my husband when I was 42.  I finally feel ready to have children now, but it’s just not that easy any more.  Some days I feel incredibly sad about it, and other days I feel incredibly free.”

Deborah’s story in TORN, “Birth Mark,” examines the decisions she has made regarding career and motherhood and the consequences of those decisions. Although TORN focuses primarily on the motherhood-career juggle, I felt it was important to highlight the stories of a few women who have made the choice NOT to have children because they can’t see a way to combine motherhood and career.

Which leads me to my question: Why is it that women still feel forced to choose between kids and career– today, in 2011?

In many interviews, I’ve referred to TORN as a “call to action” for us, as a society, to stop discussing the issue of work-life balance as a “woman’s issue.” Men and women need to join forces to put the necessary support mechanisms in place to allow all workers—men and women, fathers and mothers– to balance both work and home life. Childcare goes to the root of this whole debate – we can have all the economic stimuli and welfare reform packages you like, but unless there’s the infrastructure and sufficient childcare in place, we may as well be whistling in the wind.

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