Young women value high-paying careers more than men

David Brancaccio Apr 20, 2012

David Brancaccio: A study from the Pew Research Center shows that more women age 18 to 34 in the U.S. put a high-paying career among their top life goals. It’s at nearly two-thirds percent — up sharply over the last 15 years. Young men are ambitious, but not at the same rate as women. Kim Parker is associate director of Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends project. Good morning, Ms. Parker.

Kim Parker: Good morning.

Brancaccio: Help me understand this difference apparently between male and female career aspirations?

Parker: Yeah, I think there are a few different things at play here. In part I think this is sort of the cumulative effect of the changes that women have experienced over the past several decades in terms of workforce participation and also the achievements that women have made in higher education. Also, another important factor is that fewer young women are married these days. So women ages 18 to 34, which is the age group that we focused on, they are looking at their futures and thinking that they’re going to have to provide for themselves, at least initially. And related to that, young males have really struggled in the economy in recent years, and especially those without a college degree. And women may be thinking that they can’t necessarily rely on a male breadwinner and again may have to provide for themselves.

Brancaccio: I want to understand this correctly. It’s not that two-thirds of younger women are saying the only thing they want to do is make a whole lot of money and be a career success; they have other aspirations as well?

Parker: Yes they absolutely do and that’s a very important point, and I think another really interesting thing about this because we asked a variety of things, and asked individuals to rate them in terms of importance in their lives. And while we see an increased share of women placing a high priority on career success, they place an even higher priority on having a successful marriage and on being a good parent. So, women are not saying I want career success, but it’s going to have to come at the expense of these other areas of life -– family, marriage, children –- they’re sort of saying these things are all important to me.

Brancaccio: Well Kim Parker, Pew Research Center, thank you very much.

Parker: Thank you so much.

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