“Men have become more egalitarian, but women are more realistic.” That’s how Stew Friedman, Wharton practice professor of management, describes some of the preliminary results of a 20-year study on careers and family life based on data collected from Wharton undergraduates in both 1992 and 2012.
As part of his work with Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project, Friedman surveyed members of the graduating classes from both years and then compared the results. He also checked back in with the 1992 graduates to see how their attitudes had changed after 20 years in the working world.
Among his findings: In 1992, nearly 80% of men and women responded “yes” to a question about whether or not they planned to have children. That number dropped to 42% for men and women in the graduating class of 2012. “This result speaks to a number of important trends, one of which surely is the challenges today’s young people anticipate in raising children and having productive work about which they feel good, proud, and successful,” Friedman says. While the survey did not ask for all of the reasons that students responded in the ways that they did, Friedman notes that one of the study’s other findings was that while graduates in 1992 expected to work an average of 53 hours per week, the class of 2012 anticipated spending about 70 hours a week on the clock — nearly two work days more than their peers from 20 years earlier.
“Think about … that perception of work demands just in terms of raw time,” Friedman says. “I’m not surprised that people are thinking, ‘I’m not going to be able to have children, or I will have fewer children.’ And the reduced likelihood of having children held true for men and women, which speaks to how the attitudes of men and women have evolved over the last two decades.”
The survey also asked the graduates to weigh in on whether two-career relationships are better able to thrive when one partner is less involved with his or her career. Men in 2012 were less likely to agree with that statement than men in 1992. But women were actually more likely to agree with this view. Two-career relationships are much more prevalent today than they were 20 years ago, when male survey respondents likely expected that they would advance while their female partners slowed down to accommodate a family, Friedman notes. “Men’s attitudes now are increasingly more like women’s,” he adds. “It reflects that more male graduates now expect to be in dual-career relationships, and they want their partners to be pursuing their careers. Over the last couple of decades, we have set the cultural norm more clearly that women’s careers matter, and the advancement of women in society is something we can all expect and should support.”
But what about the reactions from women in 2012? Were they simply more realistic about the realities of integrating work and family than female graduates in 1992 — or more pessimistic? “Twenty years ago, Wharton women graduates were thinking they wouldn’t have to sacrifice career for family, but given the experience of the last two decades, the models they’ve seen and the education they’ve gotten about what they will have to do to be successful, today’s 22-year-old women are more likely to see that someone is going to have to make some sacrifices,” Friedman says.
While there’s no way to know just yet how the 2012 graduates’ attitudes will change, Friedman notes that the definition of career success did evolve for a group of survey participants from 1992 who were queried again last year. “Flexibility was a lot more important to them as 42 year-olds than it was at 22. Where they lived mattered more, but prestige, power and influence, and even enjoyment in work didn’t matter as much as it did when they first started out.”
As attitudes toward work continue to evolve, Friedman says there are numerous possibilities for progress in the area of fully integrating career with family and personal life. “The combination of radical changes in technology and the changing values of men and women with respect to the place of work in their lives indicate that we’re going to see a lot more experimentation and creative alternatives for what work looks like and what families look like and how the two look together,” he notes. “I’m hopeful as a result that there will be new models and solutions that make it possible for people to have more of what they think is ‘having it all.'”
From 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. ET on Tuesday, January 29, Knowledge at Wharton and Friedman will host a Twitter chat to further discuss the changing nature of work/life integration:
Q1 How has your definition of “having it all” changed over the course of your career?
Q2 What life- or work-related factor most influences how you define “having it all”?
Q3 How is the changing nature of work affected your ability to integrate career and the rest of life?
Q4 If you could change one thing about your work that would make life easier, what would it be?
Q5 For whom is “having it all” easier – men or women?
To participate in the chat, follow @knowledgwharton and @StewFriedman on Twitter and include the hashtag #kwchat in your replies.