Saturday, June 23, 2012

Slaughter is Mostly Wrong About Women Having it All

Anne-Marie Slaughter's cover story in the current Atlantic Monthly is an argument that even ideal conditions for a woman "having it all" aren't enough.  I found it a very frustrating article.

Slaughter was a tenured dean at Princeton, married to another tenured Princeton professor who was a very involved father, with a full-time housekeeper to help care for their home and two adolescent children.  She got her dream job in the Obama administration. But after two years she decided to leave that job and go back to Princeton to spend more time with her family.

The way she put the choice to herself was to ask whether she was indispensable to her job or indispensable to her children.  Put that way, the choice seemed obvious.  She went home.

She was asked in an interview if the answer to that question isn't obvious for everyone? She dodged the question.  Yet, if those are the choices, the answer is obvious to every parent.  By that standard, no parents, fathers or mothers, would ever go to work.

My wife is a highly educated attorney with an important career.  When we speak as a couple to my "Family Life" class on this exact subject - Can women have it all? - the answer she gives is "yes, but not all at once." You can marry and have your kids and even start a career when you are young.  As your kids get more self-sufficient, you can devote more time and effort to your career, and really hit your stride in late middle life.  For healthy middle class people these days, life is long enough for most women to do all of these things.

Slaughter says that for older women that might be fine, but that these days marrying young and having kids early has "fallen out of fashion." (She is the same age as Mrs. G. and me.)

She says that women today need to fully start their careers, and then pause to marry and have kids in their late 30s or early 40s.  They can pick up their careers a decade later and head to a peak a decade after that. She also wants a woman president, 50 women senators, and equal representation of women in corporate and judicial leadership, who will remake work and social life so women like her can have it all.

This plan strikes me as unrealistic. It would require massive social engineering, not to mention rewriting biology. 

I am also stuck on her dismissal of the "having it all, but not at once" plan as "out of fashion." The best researcher in how highly educated women can have it all, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, concluded from her empirical studies that this is the most likely plan to work in the world that actually exists.  In fact, Slaughter reveals in the interview, though not the article, she herself first married in her early twenties to a fellow professional. She then divorced and married again at 35, and only then had children. So her social engineering looks more like special pleading for her own case than a necessity for all elite women.  And there is still that pesky biological clock to work with.

There are some elements of Slaughter's article that I think are very good, especially her critique of the "cult of face-time" in office work.

But on her main points I found her argument wrong-headed and ungrateful for her fantastic opportunities.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fatherhood Makes Sociologists More Successful

The headline news of a study of women sociologists is that having children does not interfere with having a successful career at a research university.

What struck me about the study by Roberta Spalter-Roth and Nicole Van Vooren, though, is the even larger difference that having kids made to the careers of men.

The study divided these sociology Ph.D.s, measured a decade after getting their degree, into "ideal" careers as tenured professors at research universities, "alternative" careers as tenured professors at teaching colleges, or "marginal" careers as adjunct teachers and the like.

For the fathers, 80% were in either ideal or alternative positions, with only 20% getting by marginally.

For childless men, 41% were in marginal careers.

I see this is further evidence that marriage and fatherhood transforms men from the least productive to the most productive workers.