Revisiting the Mommy Track - the generation that has it all?
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Mon Aug 28 20:56:13 EDT 2000
subject: Revisiting the Mommy Track - the generation that has it all?
from: Smart Marriages
Revisiting the Mommy Track
by Jane Bryant Quinn
17 July 2000
Prosperity and higher pay for their jobs are leaving women free NOT to
Average wages are rising, employers are beating the bushes for hires.
There's more flexibility and equity in the workplace.
As you might expect, these attractions are changing women's approach to
But are they piling into the welcoming job market? No, they're edging
A rising proportion of young women appear to be choosing motherhood over
It's one of prosperity's side effects. When couples feel they need two
incomes to survive, more moms lean toward full-time paying jobs. When
they can manage on just one income (or one and a half), they lean toward
part-time work or staying home full time. A few dads do, too, but it's
Many mothers, of course, choose to keep working, to maintain their incomes
or careers. Of those 36 to 40, more than 40 percent work all year in
full-time paying jobs - double the number 30 years ago. Other mothers
always stayed home or chosen flexible "mommy track" jobs.
But there's a palpable shift - led, as usual, by the boomers. In the
when women first muscled into the work force, at-home moms all but
apologized for what they did. But once those same boomer women started
families (often late in their 30s), staying home with the kids became the
preferred thing to do.
Like their mothers, these women are adopting traditional roles - investing
in their husbands' careers rather than their own. Unlike their mothers
(and thanks to the feminist achievement), they don't feel trapped. "A lot
of women my age don't feel a big need to work because they know they can
if they want to," says Kate Francisco, 32, or Langhorne, Pa., a mother of
As feminists would say, it's all about choice, and choice is
influenced by circumstance. The stagnant 70s and downsized 80s sent
mothers to work even against their will. The more prosperous 90s freed
many of them to reconsider.
I asked economics professor Diane Macunovich of Barnard College in New
York City to look at the data on women and jobs. It's too early to reach
definitive conclusions, she says, but the changes all run in the same
Young men's real wages are going up. In particular, they're going up in
relation to what their parents earn. This gives them more confidence that
they'll reach or exceed their parents' standard of living, Macunovich
says. It also give couples more confidence that they can rely on the
husband's earning power. (In only a small percentage of couples does the
women's career take the lead.)
Young women's fertility rates have tended to follow the changes in young
men's relative wages - an interesting factoid if ever their was one. And,
yes, for twentysomethings fertility is up. Macunovich isn't suggesting
the kind of sexy frolic that instantly leaps to mind. She thinks that
higher male earning power leads to earlier marriages and then to babies
Among mothers 36 to 40, work schedules are changing. More are opting
for part-time jobs. During those years, which often coincides with the
birth of a second child, more are leaving the labor force altogether.
The women most likely to go part time are those who earn the highest
hourly pay. "Many economists thought that higher female earning power
would kill off the family," Macunovich says. "Instead, women are using
their earnings to buy back personal time." TO keep them even part time,
employers have to offer flexible schedules, telecommuting or shorter
hours. Joanne Brundage, a former postal worker and founder of a support
group, Mothers & More, in Elmhurst, Ill., calls it "sequencing" -
in and out of the work force depending on your time of life.
Still homemaking remains a luxury purchase. Among mothers with lower
hourly pay, rising numbers are taking full-time paying jobs. They can't
afford to stay home.
A higher portion of women are choosing "women's work", such as nursing
and teaching. It's no coincidence that these jobs offer many options for
When mothers first think about leaving paying work, they often hesitate.
"I like the challenges of my job," says Michele Smallidge, 34, of South
Salem, N.Y., a hospital exercize physiologist who's expecting her second
child. Business reporter Angela Geiser, 31, of Temecula, Calif., worries
about losing her identity. "I will probably continue to say that I'm a
writer, even if I stay home," she says.
A mom: That sounds familiar to New Yorker Cynthia Ryan, 38, who abandoned
her home-based jewelry business after her daughter was born and now hosts
a weekly mothers' group. "We all found that the transition from work to
home takes six months psychologically," she says. "After that, you feel
- I'm a mom'."
Jocelyn Ravel-Conde, 35, of San Diego, says it wasn't easy to downsize to
her husband's $50,000 salary, but "it was hard to think who I'd leave my
kids with and what values they'd pick up" if she kept her job. In
Naperville, Ill., Kimberly Stemm, 27, misses her $35,000 pay but doesn't
want to miss her daughter's youth.
Pediatrician Allison Seckler, 34, of Boca Raton, Fla., who now works two
nights a week in the emergency room, says what's really hard is minding
kids. She loves it, but "it's exhausting and you don't get a break."
Smallidge thinks at-home moms are getting more respect. "People see the
value in doing things properly, decorating, child care, the whole thing.
It makes you feel important."
Non of these moms worries about dependency. Besides earning power, they
have more financial savy than older generations did. Many tend IRAs or
401(k)s from a former job. Joint bank accounts are the norm, as are joint
decisions about savings and insurance.
These women generally plan to return to paying jobs. Employers will
welcome them because of the labor shortage expected as older boomers
retire, says Cornell University sociology professor Phyllis Moen. The
moms may not get career jobs, but the work will be attractive enough.
Maybe this is the generation that has it all.
Reporters: Temma Ehrenfeld, Jamie Reno, Sarah Downey and Elizabeth
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