Monday, May 08, 2006

When Imagining Their Future, Men See Clear Jobs and Hazy Families; Women See the Reverse.

I asked my family life class, none of whom are older than 23, to imagine their lives at 45. I wanted them to think of what kind of marriage, family, and career they would have then, then work backwards to think about what milestones they would need to meet along the way to get there. This is a sobering exercise for most students. Nearly all of my students, male and female, want it all – marriage, kids, and career. Men and women, though, respond to the exercise in different ways.

The men have detailed plans for what sort of work they would like to do, and what next steps they will need to take to get there. They know that they would like to marry and have kids along the way. After a term of family life class they know that most fathers need to become the main providers for their families when their kids are little, and they are starting to think about how to meet that responsibility. The career and provider path is pretty clear. They know they want a wife, even if they don't know who yet. Kids come with the wife. Both wife and kids, unless they already have a specific woman in mind, are pretty hazy.

The women have detailed plans for when they would like to have kids, how many, their ideal birth order, and, while they are at it, their names and personalities. They often have a notion of who they would like to marry, and have thought about what kind of father that fellow would make. In a separate track, they have been preparing for a career, though after a term of family life class they have a more realistic idea of what is involved in juggling a career and kids. If they don't have a husband picked out, they usually still have a pretty clear notion of the kids they would like.

Most of the men, and all of the women, assumed that their spouses would work. None of the men, and very few of the women, mentioned what kind of work they wanted their spouses to do.

Colleges spend a great deal of time on career preparation for students. Students, though, when you ask them to think about it, put much greater emphasis on the family they want than the career they want.


Anonymous said...

Dear Gruntled,

I'm incredibly curious: how do these findings mesh with actual dating practices?

I found myself watching the most recent installment of The Bachelor, and was amused at the way that un-Reality t.v. presents courtship. Most of the young women on that show seemed good for dating and romantic interest, but hopeless for being wives and mothers. (I'm 41.)

Interestingly, the woman who seemed most able to fill those roles actually was "chosen." Alas, the real-life relationship is over already.

Are college students who are interested in their families dating people with that in mind?

Gruntled said...

The women do date with marriage in mind, especially as they get toward the end of college. The men are a little behind (aren't we always?). The smart ones figure out the college is the best place to find a smart wife while they are in college; the other guys figure that out later. Many a serious relationship has begun at Homecoming, or a classmate's wedding, a couple of years after graduation.

Michael Kruse said...

Fascinating post.

"The men are a little behind (aren't we always?)."

I think the operative word here is "clueless."

My wife and I are childless but will have been married 19 year in a couple of weeks. We both have made good money and five years ago I shut down my consulting work and pulled in my shingle. I do some freelance stuff but I am privately working on some other avenues for the second half of life.

One of the most difficult things I find is to be in a group of folks and reveal I am not employed. Not unemployed... purposely not employed. Many people, men in particular don't know how to respond. It is as if they just discovered an alien in their midst. What do they talk to me about if they don't talk about work?

One of the things I find interesting about the "sexual revolution" is that for women there is much angst about career vs. family. For men, there is no angst. There is only one imaginable choice.