Corporate Millennial Women Have a Different View of Post-Baby Work-Life Balance

by Hanna Lustig


Think back to the early 2000s, a blessed time in which children rode around in Heelys, Avril Lavigne was still making music, and, most importantly, Ms. Congeniality was a blockbuster hit.

Now, think harder. Think about that scene where William Shatner is playing the host of Miss America and he’s interviewing all the pageant girls about what they want most for society.

 “World peace,” one says.

“World peace,” says another.

Sandra Bullock, a disguised federal agent, responds with “harsher punishments for parole violators.”

Hilarious. Iconic. Terrific Answer. 

But as for me? I have to go with work-life balance for all womankind, Stan. 

The problem is, work-life balance happens to be one of those annoyingly vague concepts that everyone seems to interpret differently. A slew of new data, however, reflects a stark shift in how millennial women (ages 18 to 30) are approaching this elusive balance, as opposed to generations before them. 

That shift, The New York Times explained, is toward a more fluid, less linear understanding of “balance.” Even those with the greatest ambitions anticipate reducing hours at work or switching to flexible jobs during certain points in their careers. 

Research of Harvard Business School alumni showed 37 percent of millennial women and 42 percent of already married women were planning to interrupt their career for family, compared to 28 percent from Generation X and 17 percent from baby boomers. The Harvard study also revealed younger women expect to “successfully combine work and family or have a career equal to that of their husband” less often than older women. Among participants, women were also less satisfied with their careers. Half of millennial women and baby boomers agreed, however, that gender was a disadvantage in the office.

“With the boomers, there was a real ascendance in this idea of having very egalitarian partnerships and the ability to have high-powered careers, and that has diminished with Generation X and even more so with this millennial generation,” said Colleen Ammerman, assistant director of the Harvard gender initiative.

 Another study, this time from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, showed an overall drop in desire to have children among female students between 1922 and 2012. These statistics are further bolstered by a Pew study in which 58 percent of millennial working mothers and 38 percent of older women said being a working mother made it harder for them to climb the corporate ladder. 

So what does it all mean? To me, these numbers are evidence of modern women’s practicality. Turns out, we’re a forward-looking bunch, in no small part to people like Sheryl Sandberg.  More and more, we’re hearing honest conversations about the difficulties of moderating work and life while doing both full-time. Perhaps women’s expectations have declined, but only because we are being more and more realistic about the other, just as valid choices we’re making. Moreover, the surveys hinted men are slowly coming around to the idea of interrupting their own careers for family (a whopping 13 percent!). 

Look at us, 90s kids. We’re shaking things up. 

 Images courtesy of Alyssa Schuckar/The New York Times

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