Ivy League Moms and the NYT:
Kieran Healy has an interesting update on the survey that led to a recent New York Times story on Ivy League women and their career plans.
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Judging from what I've seen so far, Goldenberg's comments in Gelf are exactly right. Story is absolutely clueless about constructing a survey (never mind the fact that survey is a rather flawed artform to begin with). Her first question is so biased as to turn off most respondents in the group that she's attempting to study. A simple summary of the article should conclude that this was an opinion in search of data. That she found data is not surprising--certainly, there have always been women at all levels, including Ivy League, who have put a priority on motherhood. Their number might even have increased over the years. But any even remotely quantitative conclusions that Story claims are complete fiction. If Story was doing a dissertation and submitted this kind of effort, she would have been required to start from scratch (in most self-respecting educational institutions, but, perhaps, not at Yale's women's studies department). The piece is well written and contains enough anecdotes to make a newspaper article entertaining, but science it is not. It is not even reporting on science. Reminds me of a lot of anti-education screeds that have been pumped out on the Right in the past 10 years or so.
9.22.2005 12:44am
It's easy to poke holes in survey methodology. Since when are newspaper articles scientific? The point is to present an idea, from which people draw their own conclusions, probably based mostly on intuition.

My intuition says that on average, women are more focused on family life and men are more focused on career advancement. I'm sure it's largely social in cause, but I'm not sure to what extent. I'm also not sure guys benefit from this, to the extent that it's innate or social.

I do think it's worth acknowledging, though, to the extent that our attempts at social engineering should have the benefit of all the information available. I wish people didn't simply dismiss these kinds of suggestions as absurd, but for no clear reason.
9.22.2005 12:51pm
Is that your feminine intuition you're using there, guest? Because my feminine intuition tells me that it would be really nice if my hubby stayed home with the kids ...
9.22.2005 2:32pm
melk (mail):
Columbienne: I think that you might be surprised at how many men would trade being VP for Advanced Widget Development for fulltime Dad. My neighborhood is full of Moms whose youngest kids are in middle school or even college. At this point,staying at home seems like a lifetime vacation. I spent a lot of time with my sons when they were little and nothing I have ever done gave me as much pleasure. My wife knows that she is welcome to swap roles with me. She has no intention whatsoever of even thinking about it.
9.22.2005 3:35pm
Cheburashka (mail):
I think we all know from experience that the number who choose to be stay-at-home moms is more like 90%.

The reality is, who'd want to go to work every day if they didn't have to?
9.22.2005 3:51pm
mike_c (mail) (www):
I don't know if I'd go that far. Plenty of people find their work rewarding and enjoy it. I don't know that they'd find it as enjoyable as raising their kids though. That seems like a pretty rewarding endeavor, though I don't have any. (I'm still young.) I talked about this on my blog. I do think plenty of dads would give up the boardroom for their kids, if it wasn't (1) shunned by society and (2) economically impractical for many families.
9.22.2005 4:41pm
Parenting isn't the same as homemaking - I recall, but couldn't quickly find, studies (probably as flawed as this, but anyway) that show at-home dads tend to do significantly less cooking, cleaning, etc. than at-home moms. The imbalance is startling where both parents are employed, regardless of each parent's income.
9.22.2005 5:04pm
Columbienne: I think that you might be surprised at how many men would trade being VP for Advanced Widget Development for fulltime Dad.

That's exactly what I'm getting at! I think that for my generation (late gen x - early gen y) both men and women value family and are skeptical about work. I myself don't quite envision staying home with the kids as a vacation, though -- I've done enough babysitting to know that kids get boring. Maybe it's different when they're you're own...
9.22.2005 7:50pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
One more thing. As I was reading the Story story, I was struck by the sense that a lot of the interviewees did not want to be stay-at-home moms just for the benefit of their children. Some were down right lazy. There is a certain breaking point in the generational continuum where some young people started seeing all work as busywork. They do not see a purpose to working other than earning a paycheck.

I suppose, one could easily ascribe my opinion to some jaded middle-agism. I can only offer my assurances that this is not the case (and I am still relatively far from middle age). But I am surrounded by those 10-15 years younger both at work and in other situations. And very few of them speak passionately about their chosen careers. It seems all jobs are temporary. It's a sampling a la carte job menu and there is no developed diet. If they show passions--and some are quite devoted--it is often in following causes, reading a particular genre of books, traveling the world (or, at least, the less-traveled third-world locales) or pursuing the more elusive careers (e.g., acting, singing) while actually holding a more traditional 9-to-5 job for the paycheck (and I am not talking just about NYC and LA waitresses). In the latter case, they do not see their regular jobs as "careers".

Feel free to try to disabuse me of this notion. But it might take a bit more than just another opinion. However, if my observations are accurate, I am not at all surprised to hear Story's version. They may indeed be devoted to motherhood and see employment as a stepping stone--and, in the long term, a lodestone--to getting there, while the 70s and 80s women might have seen the professional careers as the real goal and motherhood as an impediment in reaching it. Sadly, a lot of them also thought that modern science and medicine offered a prolonged period of conception. The reality is, of course, that the period between puberty and menopause has remained remarkably unchanged over the years despite vast improvements in various artificial fertilization techniques, etc. So many career women from the 80s are now finding themselves childless and too old to conceive. Some do not regret this, but it is not the norm. Others remain childless by choice.

It should be noted further, that the ability to make the choice between motherhood and a professional career is seen by many younger women as one of the successes of the feminist movement, not as a sign of its demise. Just think, in the late 60s and early 70s, a married woman under 40 had a hell of a time trying to get a teaching job, because most principals of the era expected them to quit within two years and become baby incubators. The same attitude likely contributed to the shortage of women in some professions and to their inability to rise within organizations. As late as 1990, Hewlett Packard found itself in the midst of a rebellion against a very real glass ceiling. They simply failed to promote women irrespectively of their family status and professional accomplishments. This is far more than an old-boys network in action, because they did hire plenty of women--under the old rules, the HR people simply would have told them to go home and make babies. No, actually HP, along with many other corporations, took advantage of the available resources, but they did not go far enough.

More recently, a number of companies, particularly in New York City, have been offering a number of insentives to their female employees who would get pregnant. Of course, as a part of the program, they would similar offers to men as well, although the situation is somewhat different for at least the last month of pregnancy and the first month after birth. Among the offers have been extend part-time, flex time, extraordinary telecommute, increased vacation time, etc. The bottom line, the companies are beginning to make an effort to keep and bring back the employees they value--in fact, this has been the subject of a couple of NYT stories in the past year (but they likely went right past Story).

In all, I'll stick by my guns--Story's account was an opinion in search of evidence and the evidence is sorely lacking. It's not quite as bad as Barnicle or Blair making up fictitious interviews, but it's not that far off. At least she's a better writer than the two bastards.
9.22.2005 10:34pm