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Are Women Now Ambitious Because They've Given Up on Finding a Hubby?

Vivia Chen

May 3, 2012

Mr-and-Mrs-Smith-PosterFunny coincidence or dark conspiracy? Two studies on women's rising ambitions landed on my desk recently. I felt buoyed by one, while the other made me want to puke.

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.


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Women of 21st century are more ambitious than men because they have understood that men are more powerful than them and men love to be in control of everything in women lives. But times have changed now that men of 2010s love ambitious women with high standards to contribute into the household because what a man out there is going to do with a woman who don't any ambitious or better yet don't want to do nothing with her life? Common sense people what i am saying is that i realized long time ago when my father(may his soul rest in peace) always told me i must be an independent woman at all cost because don't ever count on men because they love vulnerable women with no goals.

I sure hope women aren't just advancing their careers because they've given up hope on finding a man. While there are a lot of guys that are intimidated by women who are more succesful then they are, there are a some good guys like me that are fine with them. My gf is better educated and makes more than I do. I'm fine with that and she is too, and I know many other couples that are just like us. I don't believe women should have to dumb themselves down just to find a man. I'm proud of my gf and all of her accomplishments and success. I think men need to look at themselves and deal with the insecurities they have with being with a woman that's more successful than they are because finding a woman that's not as successful as you is only going to get harder as more women than men are graduating college and advancing their careers.

Comparing obesity rates between the genders, its clear that there are fewer Angelina Jolie's than Brad Pitts.

And Teresa is right. Us guys are intimidated by smart women, terrified, shivering in the corner. You can tell by my steady stream of snarky comments that I hold over-educated women in such high-esteem. Sarcasm.

Teresa's second sentence is where she starts being real. There's actually a word for it, "hypergamy," and it describes the need for women to have substantially higher status males in order to be happy. When women make more money, they show disdain for men that don't unless the guys are very high status in another way.

Ms. Chen's commentary is as superficial and annoying as the conclusions from the UT study she describes. Delete the expletive and explain more about the methodology so all of us can understand how these studies were done. Then we can have a basis to assess the validity of the conclusions. Better yet, solicit comments on the studies made by other academicians in the field who may hold other views or reach other conclusions based on a review of the data. A litigator wouldn't accept how opposing counsel characterizes the holding of a case at face value, so why should that skepticism be suspended for studies such as these?

Here's a bit of a bright outlook - a great video on working moms and stay at home dads. My husband and I are one of the couples! http://money.cnn.com/video/news/2012/05/07/n-women-outearning-men.cnnmoney/

I think men are intimidated by smart, educated women and today there are more of those than ever. Also, educated and employed women may have different standards than in the past, and they want to solidify their careers before settling down and having children. All of that leads to delays in getting married - and maybe never getting married.

As a divorced woman myself, I think marriage is highly overrated in any case.

I think there is a lot of validity to this point by Biggs: "Women are outperforming men; thus there are fewer marriageable men to choose from. So ambitious women find themselves without potential spouses." There are several negative aspects of this development: (i) there is almost no cross-class marriage anymore -- bright well-educated men and women are marrying each other, and marriage and family values are breaking down in the blue collar/working class (see Charles Murray's new book); and (ii) a number of these well-educated women are not marrying men and having children on their own. Every piece of research holds that a two-parent male-female household is best for children as they model traits of both parents, but have a same-sex role model. (This is not to oppose same-sex marriage; I support it.) I simply think that it is somewhat selfish for these women to raise kids without a father. Yes, they have the financial resources to do so, but raising kids is about more than money.

Great punchline!

And, yes, Anon is correct: Many of us prefer being child-free and sans husband.

Isn't this just the same thing we've seen in a decade earlier in African American society? Women are outperforming men; thus there are fewer marriageable men to choose from. So ambitious women find themselves without potential spouses.

Maybe some of us just prefer NOT to be mothers and NOT to be married?

So according to the Pew report, young women are more likely than young men to grub after money and prestige. And that's cheerful news? Why, pray tell?

The studies reveal lots about modern women&men. ...deep down we (women) know to look our best for work, findiing a mate, etc. We're still romantics at heart...I joked with a friend after hearing a very loving tribute to this country ainger's wife..."He said WHAT???" ( "She's Everything ")....I think that's what modern women want...career, kids and the guy who treasures all she brings to the relarionship(marriage). Happy hunting!

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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