Meanwhile, as noted above, the data reveals a significant portion of middle-class American mothers are pausing for a period of time to focus on family. For them money is tight, but their actions speak volumes about their values. They care so deeply about being their own children’s primary caregivers that they are willing to make significant lifestyle compromises to do so.
Take Jennifer Tamborski. When she graduated from college in St. Louis in 1998 with a degree in environmental science, the economy was in a mild recession and she couldn’t find a job. She worked as a health care administrator, a receptionist, and as an assistant to a real estate broker. Eventually, she married and became a mother. Jennifer wanted to be able to stay home with her children. By refusing to eat out, cutting coupons, eliminating travel, and doing anything else they could to keep costs low, she was able to pause for a few years. Eventually, Jennifer found work as a virtual assistant. Now she has a thriving business serving clients from all over the country. She works while her children are in school and still has time to be the mom she wants to be. As Jennifer told me, “I’m solidly middle class and I still worked, paused, and thrived.”
So what will the next generation do? If you want the career of your dreams, some would argue, “Don’t become a mother.” A longitudinal study from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that in 1992 78 percent of Generation X female graduates planned to have children, but by 2012, only 42 percent of female graduates (all of whom are Millennials) planned to have kids.15 Deciding not to be a parent is one way to reduce the stress of work-life balance, but for the 90 percent of Americans who do want children, that isn’t really a solution.16
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As of 2015, there are 22 million Millennial parents in the United States and about 9,000 new babies are born to them each and every day. These new mothers (and fathers) are just beginning to grapple with the issue of how to integrate work and family. Despite the well-intentioned efforts of companies and those committed to getting more women to the top of every industry, I believe we are going to see a growing number of the next generation of women and men temporarily shifting their priorities to focus on family. The data supports this.
A 2013 study of generational attitudes about parenting by Working Mother magazine revealed that 60 percent of Millennials believe that one parent should stay home to raise the children. Generation X? Only 50 percent of respondents in that age group believed kids needed one parent at home.17 And a 2016 study by the ManpowerGroup revealed that 61 percent of Millennial women anticipate taking a break in their careers once they have children.18 It’s already happening. A concerning 2015 study of white-collar Millennials by Ernst & Young revealed that 59 percent reported their spouse was “forced” to quit to care for the kids.19
As Katy Steinmetz wrote in her Time magazine article, “Help! My Parents Are Millennials,” “the pressure among millennials to be great parents is fierce.”20 She reports that, in February 2015, parenting site Baby Center conducted a survey of 2,700 U.S. mothers between the ages of eighteen and forty-four. They found that 80 percent of Millennial moms said it is important to be the “perfect mom.” But those of us who have been there can tell you, it is hard to deliver on that scorecard and also be all-in, all-of-the-time when it comes to your career.
Whether middle class or part of the One Percent, Millennials are more likely to pause than their predecessors. Remember that 2015 Harvard Business School survey of alumni?21 Not only did it reveal that their Gen X and Baby Boomer alumnae did, in fact, pause, it also revealed that 37 percent of Millennial alumnae plan to interrupt their careers to care for their children. This is a dramatic change from their predecessors. Only 28 percent of Gen X and 17 percent of Baby Boomer women who secured their MBAs from Harvard expected to do the same. Of course, their reality proved quite different. For these women, who had every opportunity available, pausing was likely the only option. Why? Certainly not because they lacked ambition. What they lacked was a system that supported mothers in the workplace.
Whether middle class or part of the One Percent, Millennials are more likely to pause than their predecessors.
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