As I noted yesterday, Christine Whelan is arguing, in Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women with Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Hewlett reported in Creating a Life that at midlife, 1/3 to 1/2 of the highest-achieving women had no children, vs. about 1/5 of other women. Whelan disputes that there is a gap at all, citing an article by Garance Franke-Ruta in The American Prospect. Franke-Ruta contrasts a Current Population Survey analysis with Hewlett's more focused National Parenting Association survey. According to Franke-Ruta, the CPS shows that married high-achieving women are just as likely to be mothers as other married women. The reason that other women have more kids altogether is that the high achievers are less likely to have kids out of wedlock than other women are.
So what does this comparison mean? Let us take it as given that high-achieving women do marry at about the same rate as other women, and the married women among them have kids at about the same rate as other married women. That is not quite the end of the story. Hewlett also reports that a large minority of the high-achieving women who did have a child wished that they had started early enough to have more. And even Whelan takes for granted that if high-achieving women have kids, nannies and day care are a "given." Yet most mothers would like to be home with their babies, even if they want to return to full-time work later. This, I think, is why Hewlett found that 1/5 of professionally trained women were not working in their professions – most were home with their kids at that stage in life.
That last point is a crucial one: Hewlett does not say that women have to choose either high achievement or marriage and kids – as Whelan charges her with. Rather, Hewlett says that women can have it all – education, marriage, kids, career – but probably not all at once. If they plan, they can have it all eventually, but some things have to come before others. And the most imperious item on the list is having kids. The biological clock is less forgiving than the timetable for any other item on the list.
I think Whelan, who is 30 and proudly announces her engagement in the Acknowledgements, has not had to deal with the tragic sense of baby hunger that Hewlett's 50-something high achievers have. Whelan quotes with approval from Ann, an unmarried 30-year-old medical resident:
"As a doctor, I'd advise women to think about having their kids when they are younger, in their early 20s. But this just isn't practical for high-achieving women. And it's a disconnect that lies in our biological challenge of reproduction."
As Hewlett shows, the brave reliance of younger women on medical technology (and wishful thinking) to solve the problem of finding husbands and having babies after school and career are well-launched is setting many of them up for heartache.
You can have it all, but not all at once. The main issue is not whether smart women will find smart men to marry, but whether both of them will find one another in time to have smart kids.