Louise Story has an excellent piece in the New York Times this week, “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood.” Story, a recent Yale grad and now an MBA student at Columbia, surveyed and interviewed over 200 Yale women, with some comparable information from other elite colleges. Many of the women she interviewed planned to start serious careers, but to suspend them to be home with their children.
The story is interesting for its main finding that many elite college women are planning to be home with their kids. I am also interested in the framing of the story – that these young women do not find it to be a big deal that they plan to be leaders in society by being stay-at-home moms. On the other hand, some of the Boomer feminists interviewed for the story are shocked that these young women are, as they see it, so backwards. “They are still thinking of this as a private issue; they're accepting it," said Laura Wexler, a professor of American studies and women's and gender studies at Yale. Cynthia E. Russett, on the other hand, a Yale professor from a pre-Boomer generation, says that, "The women today are, in effect, turning realistic."
As KC noted in the comment I responded to a couple of days ago, young women – Millennials, not Boomers or even Gen Xers – do put a high priority on arranging their lives to give the best of themselves to their children. For many, that means being full-time moms when their kids are little. I do not think that they are backward or ignorant of the ways in which “the personal is the political.” I believe, as Prof. Russett suggests, that they are being realistic. Unlike the pioneering women of Yale and places like it a generation ago, these high achieving women have read the research and can count the years from age 22 to the likely end of their childbearing years. They know that they can have it all IF they plan for marriage and children early.
The one important thing I thought was missing from Louise Story’s account is that she frames the choice these women face as either/or – either they have a career, or they have children. Yet life is long, long enough to do both. Women with degrees from Yale and other elite colleges could stay home with kids in their late twenties, all of their thirties, even into their forties, and still have a 25 or 30-year career. They won't lose their brains raising kids, and will gain an age of confidence, experience, and multi-tasking ability.