Pew Research: Gender reversal on career aspirations


April 23, 2012

According to a 2011 U.S. Bureau of Statistics study, the proportion of women working outside the home increased more than 20% between 1970 and 2010, rising from 39% to 47% of the population. And more of these women hold better-paying positions than they did two generations ago.

A 2012 metastudy by the Pew Research Center, “A Gender Reversal on Career Aspirations,” synthesized the results of several surveys on employment statistics and attitudes toward work and quality of life conducted by Pew, Gallup and the U.S. Bureau of Statistics between 1978 and 2011.

Key study findings include:

  • The percentage of young women (ages 18-34) who reported that career success is “one of the most important things” or “very important” to them rose 10 percentage points in 14 years, from 56% in 1997 to 66% in 2010/2011.
  • The number of young women who said a high-paying career is “one of the most important things” or “very important” has also risen, from 59% in 1997 to 66% in 2010/2011. The percentage of young men with similar sentiments was 58% in 1997 and 59% in 2010/2011, meaning that more young women now place importance on a high-paying career than young men.
  • The share of women age 18 to 34 who say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives rose from 28% in 1997 to 37% in 2010/2011. Over the same period, the share of young men ages 18 to 34 who say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things dropped from 35% to 29%.
  • By 2010/2011, only 33% of women ages 18 to 34 were married, less than half of the rate (73%) in 1960. While the median age for motherhood rose by two years (from 22 in 1960 to 24 in 2010/2011), the median age for marriage increased by seven years (from 20 in 1960 to 27 in 2010/2011) during the same period.
  • More than 70% of women with children worked in 2010/2011, up 24 percentage points since 1975. Women with younger children (under age 6) participated in the labor force slightly less (64%) than those with older children (77%).
  • In 2010/2011, 44% of women ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in undergraduate or graduate programs and 36% of women in this age group had already earned a bachelor’s degree. Of men the same age, 38% were attending college classes and 28% had bachelor’s degrees.
  • Despite relatively high rates of educational attainment and labor force participation, women still faced unequal earnings compared to their male colleagues. In 2010, a woman’s median weekly wage was $669 and a man’s was $824. A woman earned 62% of her male counterpart’s salary in 1979 and 80% to 81% of his pay in 2010/2011. Younger age groups recorded lower levels of wage disparities, however, than those between 35 and 64.

The researchers found that public opinion generally supports women’s participation in the work force and more than half (62%) favor a model of marriage with a more equitable distribution of household responsibilities over a traditional marriage with the man as the sole breadwinner. Opinion was divided on the impact of mothers with younger children working outside the home, with 21% saying it was good for society, 37% considering it bad and 38% not seeing much difference.

Tags: youth, children, women and work


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Citation: Patten, Eileen; Parker, Kim. “A Gender Reversal on Career Aspirations.” Pew Research, April 19, 2012.