Are women more career-driven than men?
Yes, according to a new Pew poll showing that in 2010 and 2011, 66% of women – compared to 59% of men – said being successful in a high-paying career or profession was “one of the most important things” or “very important” in their lives. For women, that’s a 10-point jump from 1997, when only 56% put success in a high-paying career as a top priority. For men, the numbers are basically static: 15 years ago, 58% of men said a successful high-paying career was very important or one of the most important things.
Instead of showing that men’s ambitions have “stagnated” or that women are “surpassing” them, these Pew results instead reflect financial realities for many Americans, and the benefits of shifting gender roles. The gender wage gap, though narrowing, is still substantial – a woman makes 77 cents to a man’s dollar, for the same job and the same number of hours, despite the fact that more women are now graduating from college than men. More than twice as many women as men (and most of them women of color) work in occupations that pay poverty wages for a family of four. Many women are single mothers, and a high-paying job means the difference between thriving and barely surviving.
And despite media portrayals of stay-at-home moms as wealthy Ann Romneys, the reality is that women who forgo work for child-rearing are more likely to be lower-income and less educated (also raising the question of how much staying at home is a “choice” or just happens to be more financially viable than working a low-wage job and paying for childcare). For many women, prioritizing a well-paying career is a necessity, since making a liveable wage doing low-skilled work isn’t something we can count on.
But the Pew poll also reflects how increases in gender equality have been better for families, including men. Fifty-nine percent of women and 47% of men say that being a good parent is a top priority: that’s a 17-point hike from what women said in 1997, and an 8-point hike for men. Despite societal finger-wagging that women “can’t have it all”, women today are seeing that, while balancing career and family is not easy, it is entirely possible – especially since modern men are much more likely to help out. (And we see that the family/career balance would be a heck of a lot easier with some policy changes like family leave, universal healthcare, better aid to low-income families and affordable childcare.)
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