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Boohoohoo, We Can't Have It All!
Anne Applebaum complains about the limitations, on women, by the physics of life:

...Economists such as June O'Neill or Harvard's Claudia Goldin, who have accounted for different job choices, hours worked and time taken off for raising children, have concluded that it is these factors, not discrimination, that account for most of the difference.

And that is the point: Too often the missing component of the debate about the dearth of tenured female scientists, or female chief executive officers, or women in Congress, is the word "family." But Summers did call the work-vs.-family choice the most important problem for women who want tenure: In academia, as in other professions, high-powered employers "expect a large number of hours in the office, they expect a flexibility of schedules to respond to contingency, they expect a continuity of effort through the life cycle, they expect . . . a level of commitment that a much higher fraction of married men have been historically prepared to make than of married women." It isn't ability or discrimination that hold women up most, in other words, but the impossibility of making a full-time commitment to work in a culture that demands 80-hour weeks, as well as to family in a society unusually obsessed with its children.

We all know this anecdotally, but research confirms it. A British sociologist, Catherine Hakim, recently concluded for example that out of 3,700 working-age women she surveyed, about a third were fully focused on their jobs, about a third were fully focused on their families, and about a third wanted a mix -- meaning, invariably, that they took the sort of job that doesn't lead to fast-track promotion. If these numbers hold there never will be a 50-50 split between men and women at the highest professional or managerial levels of anything: The ratio will always hover around 2 to 1.

Is this nature or nurture? I don't see that it matters. What matters is that those women who want to become high achievers can do so, but those who want to stay home some of the time aren't forced, by economics or social pressure, to take high-pressure jobs.

Wouldn't it be nice if life were one long wade in rose petals by moonlight? Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work that way. Joyce Purnick, Metro Editor of The New York Times, weighed in on the issue a few years ago:

If I had left the Times to have children and then come back to work a four-day week the way some women reporters on my staff now do, or if I had taken long vacations and leaves to be with my family, or left the office at six o'clock, instead of eight or nine, I wouldn't be metro editor. Should women and men who have taken the detour of the Mommy-Daddy track be as far along as those who haven't? Would that be fair? I reluctantly have to say that it would not be fair.

By choice, I work seven days a week -- some of them longer than others. Monday morning, for example, I'll wake up at 5am and work all day, and much of the night, then wake up at 4 or 5am on Tuesday and work to noon or 2pm, depending on my success chasing the muse (that bitch!) I don't stop for anything. Not to drive kids to school, wipe their noses, take them to the pediatrician if they're burning up with fever or their heads are falling off, or any of that. Why not? Because I don't have kids because I'm not interested in stopping to drive them to school, wipe their nonexistent noses, or any of the rest. As somebody in The Godfather once said, "This is the life we've chosen."

Posted by aalkon at February 28, 2005 7:41 AM


That's a great post. The Mighty McArdle covers some similar territory here and in surrounding entries:

Posted by: Cridland at February 28, 2005 12:36 AM

Well put, and as Cridland says, great post. Now how do I deal with people who treat me like an idiot when I say that someday soon, I want to cut down on "real work" to have a family and that I don't care if it means I make less money and don't advance as much as I otherwise would?

Posted by: Jackie D at February 28, 2005 2:41 AM

Like they're idiots. I just went to my assistant's baby shower this weekend. And while I don't believe in marriage or want children, lemme tell you, both seem to make her silly with joy. And I'm all for that. I think it has to do with "courage of your convictions." (And the ability to have them while casting a really withering squinty-eye!)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at February 28, 2005 5:51 AM

The Joyce Purnick quote is perfect. Smart lady.

Posted by: Lena Cuisina, Baby Killer at February 28, 2005 7:07 AM

I don't agree about Purnick--Joyce is a well-known whiner. She wouldn't be Metro Editor if she wasn't married to Max Frankel. She's hardly the poster girl for bootstrapping. She's sort of realistic, but sort of not.

Posted by: KateCoe at February 28, 2005 8:39 AM

We're all "sort of realistic, but sort of not," yes?

Posted by: Lena, sort of at February 28, 2005 9:12 AM

I sort of agree with what Lena says.

Posted by: allan at February 28, 2005 9:46 PM

Wow! I wish more people thought like you. I have a daughter and so I work out of my house. Therefore, I can stop everything to take her to school, wipe her nose...but I really, really respect people who know they want to devote their time to things other than children. The irony is - such thoughtful people would make probably make great parents.

Posted by: Michele at March 18, 2005 4:05 PM

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