It’s the 21st century and in the past fifty years, women have been changing their expectations regarding professional life. Women fight for equal rights, equal pay, more high leadership roles and higher expectations for a fulfilled personal and professional life.
Women want it all!
But can they have it all?
The 20th century saw the rise of women. The 21st century will see the adaptation (or not) of men to the consequences of that rise.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-first and world-renowned gender expert
In 2014 Robin J. Ely, Pamela Stone and Colleen Ammerman, three renowned gender experts published a very interesting survey:
The researchers surveyed more than 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates (men and women, most of them MBA alumni) regarding career and family life. The respondents’ ages span over three generations: Millennials (ages 26–31), Generation X (ages 32–48) and Baby Boomers (ages 49–67).
The fresh out of school graduates were asked about their expectations related to career development and gender responsibilities, while Generation X and Baby Boomers were invited to share how the reality lived up to their expectations.
Expectations vs Reality
Both men and women were asked about their expectations. How did their lives unfold to meet these expectations?
I’ll give you a hint – according to this survey, women are disappointed, men are satisfied.
Here are the main findings of the survey:
Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers – Career
- expectation: 61% of Gen X and Baby Boomer men expected to be in “traditional” partnerships, in which their careers would take precedence over their partner’s;
- reality: their expectations were surpassed: up to 74% of men got what they expected.
- expectation: 25% of women expected to put their husband’s career above their own;
- reality: their expectations were also surpassed but in a negative way: up to 40% of women sacrificed their careers to the benefit of their husbands’.
Gen X and Baby Boomers – Childcare responsibilities
- expectation: almost 84% of men expected their partners to take primary responsibility for childcare;
- reality: their expectations were exceeded: up to 86% of them were successful in leaving the child-rearing responsibilities up to their partners.
- 50% of women expected to take on the main responsibility of childcare and rearing,
- reality: 72% ended up taking responsibility with little support from their partners.
Millennials – Career
As fresh graduates, just starting out their lives, both women and men expected the same for their future: fulfilling professional and personal lives.
One would argue that the younger generation is more open-minded and has a progressive outlook on gender responsibilities. I guess the question is how much open-minded and progressive? Because the difference is very small in comparison with their parents and grandparents.
50% of Millennial men support a traditional partnership as compared to 61% of GenX’ers and Baby Boomers.
Is 11% relevant? I believe not.
Millennial women take a cue from their mothers: a similar percentage expect their partner’s career to take precedence – 26%. So not much progress from one generation to the next. They’re even worse than their grandmothers: only 17% of Baby Boomer women expected traditional partnerships.
Millennials – Childcare responsibilities
When it comes to the person who is expected to take the main responsibility for child caring and child rearing, the numbers are smaller than the earlier generations but not by much.
42% of Millennial women expect to be the primary caregiver for their children, while 66% of men expect the same.
Conclusions according to this survey’s results:
- Across the three generations, men were more satisfied than women with their experiences of meaningful work, professional accomplishments, opportunities for career growth, and compatibility of work and personal life;
- Many women’s expectations for career equality were unfulfilled;
- The belief that women value a career less is widespread although not true;
- More than half the men in Generation X and Baby Boomer said that when they left HBS, they expected that their careers would take priority over their spouses’ or partners’;
- Surprisingly half Millennial men believed in the traditional role of their partners expecting them to give up their own careers in order to support theirs;
- Half the women expected their partners to share in the responsibility of childcare with only up to 35% actually meeting this expectation;
- Men expected their partners to take primary responsibility for child care;
- Women who started out with egalitarian expectations but ended up in more-traditional arrangements felt less satisfied with how their careers have progressed than did women who both expected and experienced egalitarian partnerships at home;
- Traditional partnerships were linked to higher career satisfaction for men, whereas women who ended up in such arrangements were less satisfied, regardless of their original expectations;
- About half the women who had egalitarian career expectations also assumed that they would perform most of the childcare in their families.
If you can’t find a spouse who supports your career, stay single.
Aviva – Wittenberg Cox, CEO of 20-first and world-renowned gender expert
As the numbers of this survey show, women are at a disadvantage: they don’t let their expectations be known by their partners or they give up on their dreams too easily.
It’s an unpleasant surprise to see such a high percentage of men (highly educated men, mind you!) still holding retrograde beliefs regarding gender responsibilities. As it seems, women’s struggle for equal rights at home and in society have yet to reap the benefits.
As a man, to expect your partner to forget about her own career aspirations and become a stay-at-home wife is unloving and disrespectful.
Where is this coming from? What is the reason we find this traditional 1950s perspective on marriage still alive and kicking?
The first relationship we see growing up is that of our parents’.
Psychologists say our ideology regarding gender roles is often influenced by our parents’. As children, we see what roles each of our parents have in our family, whether or not they share the burden of household chores and which one is more involved in child-rearing activities.
If we see our mother taking care of mainly everything in the home and family (buying groceries, running errands, driving the children to school or other activities, cooking meals, doing the housecleaning etc) we may grow up believing in a more traditional partnership between spouses and expect our life to follow the same pattern.
On the other hand, an unhappy and frustrated mother constantly thinking of what might have been had she not given up on her dream career, will raise children with a different outlook on life: they will take their mother’s life choices as an example of what not to do if they wish to be happy.
Regret is worse than failure.
If we want this situation to change for the better for future generations of women and men, we need to start today. We need to change the status quo in our own family. If we want our daughters to be happy and have it all, we need to teach our sons to value and respect the rights of happiness of the people around them. If we want our daughters to be happy and have it all, we need to teach them to value themselves, to acknowledge their self-worth and go for their dreams.
Communication is key to a happy life.
In her article, If you can’t find a spouse who supports your career, stay single Aviva-Wittenberg Cox talks about three strategies that both men and women can implement for a happy relationship and a fulfilling career and life:
- Discuss long-term personal and professional goals early and revise them whenever both of you need it;
- Men should practice the art of active listening while women should let men know they appreciate them;
- Enforce the 5:1 rule: five positive comments for every “constructive” one.
What do you believe?
Are women still putting their partners’ careers first?
What have you experienced in your own relationship?
Join the Conversation
We’d love to hear what you have to say.