Are today’s female undergraduates more likely to give up their careers to raise children than their predecessors? Last September, The New York Times surprised more than a few readers when it reported that nearly 60 percent of the female undergraduates it surveyed at Yale University planned to stop working to raise children. The article was criticized for its “survey techniques, particularly the small size of (the) survey pool,” according to The Yale Herald. When the Herald “sent its own admittedly unscientific poll to 5,388 undergraduates,”--1,256 of whom responded—it found that “close to 30 percent of female respondents said they planned or hoped to be stay-at-home mothers,” versus the 60 percent figure in the Times’ survey.
Now comes more evidence that rebuts the Times article. Amy Sennett, a member of Princeton University’s class of 2006, reports in the July 19th issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly that a mere 3% of her female classmates plan to be “homemakers” in ten years. Sennett surveyed 51% of her classmates to collect data for her senior thesis.
Interestingly, Sennett’s results aren’t so different from those of a similar survey, compiled more than 30 years ago, of 270 members of the class of 1975. When Princeton alumnae, Barbara Zipperman, polled her classmates in 1975, she found that “54% of the women, but only 26% of the men, foresaw a possible conflict between work and family,” the article reports. At the time, nearly 75% of those women said they expected to work part-time.
Compare that to the class of 2006, where higher percentages of both the men and women anticipate a work-family conflict--62% of the women and 33% of the men, to be exact. About 60% of those female undergrads expect to work part-time, Sennett reports. (The figure for the men: 13%.)
How did real life work out for the class of 1975? It turns out that 58% of the women in the class actually worked part-time when their children were young, versus just 4% of the men. Other women “say they pursued their careers less aggressively than they had intended, and several speak of their lack of time for anything other than career and family,” Sennett writes.
It will be interesting to see how the class of 2006 fares. It’s clear that these young women are far more committed to the notion of combining work and family than the Times article would have us believe. The bigger question: Will Corporate America provide them with high-quality part-time opportunities?