First, the cheerier report, from Pew Research Center:
In a reversal of traditional gender roles, young women now surpass young men in the importance they place on having a high-paying career or profession, . . . Two-thirds (66 percent) of young women ages 18 to 34 rate career high on their list of life priorities, compared with 59 percent of young men. In 1997, 56 percent of young women and 58 percent of young men felt the same way.
What's more, this attitude is not limited to young women. Among those ages 35 to 64, Pew reports that men (43 percent) and women (42 percent) nearly equally rank success in a high-paying job as "important” in their lives. In 1997, only 26 percent women did so, compared to 41 percent men.
I see all this as progress in the march toward equality. But another study from the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Minnesota puts a damper on women's ambitions. Here's how the UTSA describes the finding:
“Most women don’t realize it, but an important factor in a woman’s career choice is how easy or difficult it is to find a husband,” said Kristina Durante, assistant professor of marketing at the UTSA College of Business. “When a woman’s dating prospects look bleak—as is the case when there are few available men—she is much more likely to delay starting a family and instead seek a career.”
If that's not annoying enough, check out how these researchers couch their findings:
“A scarcity of men leads women to invest in their careers because they realize it will be difficult to settle down and start a family,” said study coauthor Vlad Griskevicius, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “In fact, the strongest effects were found for women who are least likely to secure a mate.”
“Women who judged themselves to be less desirable to men—those women who are not like Angelina Jolie—were most likely to take the career path when men became scarce,” added Durante.
So being ambitious is the default reaction when women realize they're no Angelina Jolie? What the #@&*!
Unlike the Texas and Minnesota study, the Pew report finds that women (and men) also put a high priority on having a happy marriage and being a good parent. "Thus the increased importance women are now placing on their careers has not come at the expense of the importance they place on marriage and family," reports Pew. In other words, young women feel they can have it all.
Another healthy development is that American society is much more accepting of working women. According to a September 2011 Pew poll, "73 percent of Americans feel that the trend toward more women in the workforce has been a change for the better in our society."
Obviously, I prefer the Pew study. But are the findings from the Texas and Minnesota study totally without validity? Look, I don't deny that people lacking a personal life might work harder at their jobs, but I think that pertains to both sexes. What law firm doesn't have its share of moldy, repressed lawyers who bill 3,000 hours a year? And the ones I know tend to be men!
So maybe women are focused on work not because they don't look like Angelina. Maybe it's because the men around them look nothing like Brad Pitt.