9.26.2005

Women join the rat race, only to find themselves on a hamster wheel

By now I am sure that many of you have read the article that topped the most emailed list at the New York Times for much of last week. In case you haven't, here's a permalink: Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood

Five days ago, my intent was just to alert you to the article. My immediate response was gratitude for the introduction of this issue to public discourse. I am glad we are no longer constrained by a do-it-all mentality, that women and men are taking work-life balance into consideration. Two follow-up comments:

1) The possibility of men choosing to forego outside-of-home work to raise children needs to be part of this discussion. As mentioned in the article, the likelihood that a woman does not want to pursue a career has (economically rational) consequences for her chances at admission to college, her ability to get hired, and her pay. Differences between the likelihood for women and the likelihood for men to stay at home result in asymmetrical implications. In order to maintain or improve gender balance in the academic and professional settings, men must also change their likelihood to stay at home.
2) I'm all for both/and solutions, so I'll mention an alternative. Part-time work for both parents and better sharing of household duties is another possibility. At present, the flexibility this arrangement requires is not available in most workplaces. This problem has to be addressed on a national level through better family leave policies.

However, now it's been almost a week since the article ran, so discussion has extended beyond (and before) the article's original thesis. Thankfully so, since my heads-up and comments alone are obsolete. David Goldenberg at Gelf Magazine suggests the survey design is flawed. Here are some of the survey questions:

When you have children, do you plan to stay at home with them or do you plan to continue working? Why?

If you plan to continue working, do you plan to work full-time in an office, or full-time from your house, or part-time in an office, or part-time from your house? Why?

If you plan to stay at home with your kids, do you plan to return to work? If so, how old will you wait for your kids to be when you return?

Was your mom a stay-at-home mom? Explain whether she worked, and how much she worked. Were you glad with her choice (to either work or stay-at-home or whatever combination she did)?

At what age do you think you’ll have kids? How many kids do you want?


As Goldenberg points out, these questions assume respondents are straight women who plan to marry and have children. Those assumptions likely alienated the women who did not match the profile, not to mention the women uninterested in a carelessly constructed survey or the women just to busy to respond. All of this nonresponse, if related to survey content, biases results. Also, the longer the question is framed solely as a woman's decision to work full-time/part-time/not at all, the longer we don't realize having a child and subsequently raising it implicates both father and mother.

Question for the day: how do you feel about being a stay-at-home spouse? Are you male or female? Do you envision any alternative arrangement, i.e. working from home, flexible scheduling, part-time work, that would allow you to take part in household duties without completely leaving the workforce?


p.s. For all my francophilia, I hate the word "elite."

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