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Gen X Women Succeed at Work, Have Fewer Kids: Study

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  • Dwi Soegardi
    The women of Generation X are a hard-working bunch. They re so hard working, in fact, that many of them are opting to not have children, according to new
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 13, 2011
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      The women of Generation X are a hard-working bunch. They're so hard
      working, in fact, that many of them are opting to not have children,
      according to new research from the Center for Work Life Policy.

      The study, titled "The X Factor: Tapping into the Strengths of the 33
      to 46-year-old Generation," concluded that Gen Xers, who you might
      think of as the "Reality Bites" generation, have gradually shed their
      slacker reputation to become more ambitious and educated.

      But they are also more likely to be childless than members of their
      parents' generation -- over 40 percent of women between the ages of 41
      to 45 surveyed didn't have children.

      According to the study, during Generation X's peak years, more than 34
      percent of Gen Xers were enrolled in colleges and universities. Women
      and minorities made up 64 percent of graduates.

      The downside to these positive numbers is that debt has been a major
      contributing factor in the career choices of Gen Xers: 43 percent of
      them said that their ability to pay off their student loans is an
      important factor in their career decisions, while 74 percent cited
      credit card debt as a factor.

      Other factors that make the Gen X outlook less than rosy: Multiple
      boom and bust market cycles and the current housing slump. As a
      result, they're first generation not meeting the living standards of
      their parents.

      So what's all this got to do with forgoing parenthood? HuffPost asked
      Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founding president of the Center for Work Life
      Policy and author of "Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets:
      Why Woman are the Solution" -- whose work has inspired some debates in
      the past -- to walk us through some of the study's findings.

      According to a CWLP press release, Gen Xers are "choosing" not to have
      children. Does this mean they delay and then can't get pregnant, or
      are they actively making the decision not to have children?

      The data show that at age 40, college-educated women in this
      generation do not have children, and that’s obviously towards the end
      of the childbearing years. I call it a 'creeping non-choice' because
      it's nuanced: You don’t wake up one day and say, 'I'm not going to
      have kids.' It’s a decision that falls out of other circumstances.
      Other important factors and opportunities crowd out the possibility of
      having children.

      36 percent of Gen X men also don’t have children by age 40, but women
      are paying a more permanent price because guys can have children when
      they're 55.

      It's also true that whether it's extreme jobs, or the financial
      pressure on this generation, many individuals decide they want to do
      two things well, and not three things badly. Those two things are
      their relationship and their career.

      According to your findings, some of the reasons Gen X women aren’t
      having kids are career ambition and economic challenges, as well as
      changing mores and life choices. Can you explain how these factors are
      deterring women from having children?

      I think more women definitely want to find success and fulfillment in
      work, love, and those are the two things that you're gunning for in

      What happened to work is that it has become much more extreme: We find
      that 28 percent of Gen Xers are working 10 hours more a week than they
      were 5 years ago. That's in part because of the Great Recession.
      Everyone is doing more with less. Everyone's running a little scared.
      Unemployment is 9 percent. You really fear for your job.

      There's tremendous work pressure and it's gotten considerably more
      intense over the last 5 years. Sometimes it's hard to find time to
      wash your hair, let alone date and have kids.

      The study found that among non-parents, 60 percent of women and 36
      percent of men feel their personal commitments are perceived as less
      important than those of colleagues with children. What's going on

      Many companies have a bunch of benefits and support policies around
      working parents. There's flextime, paid parenting leave, telecommuting
      options, these things are not unusual these days. Often times,
      non-parents feel that all the best benefits are going to one
      demographic: those who are married with small kids. If you've got a
      two-year-old, you luck out. If you want to run a marathon or play the
      cello or volunteer, you have a really hard time getting any legitimacy
      around those things.

      It's not that non-parents are [be]grudging parents getting help --
      because they do understand this is a hard society to bring [a] child
      up well in -- but they're beginning to say, 'What about me? How about
      honoring and celebrating my life out of work? I also have a life.'
      Therefore, there's a big yearning to have employers pay attention to
      their passions.

      One big recommendation of the report is that employers look hard at
      their employees and try to figure out what it takes to make everyone
      feel that their lives are respected and that we are inclusive in terms
      of giving support of lives outside of work. Maybe that yoga class at
      6:30 is as important to you as picking your kids from soccer.

      When it came to the men and women you surveyed, on which topics did
      you see the biggest differences in their responses?

      We find that by their mid-thirties, and certainly by age 40, women are
      feeling more stalled in their careers than men. They are less likely
      to make it into senior positions. There really is still a glass
      ceiling, no longer the lower or middle management level, but at the
      senior management level, and that popped up in our survey.

      One interesting different take from men and women was that when we
      asked them in this survey, what is your role in child care
      responsibility, 54 percent of male Gen Xers claim that they were
      sharing it equally, but women didn’t agree with them. Only 25 or 30
      percent of Gen Xers felt that their partners were doing 50 percent.
      Maybe men have this aspiration to divvy it up equally, but they don’t
      always come through.

      The study found this generation to be a particularly resilient one.
      How did you measure ‘resilience,’ and why are women in particular

      It was the amount of times you've been let go and experienced churns
      in the market place. If you can survive that and hang on to your
      ambition and your work ethic, you're doing pretty well. Fewer women in
      this generation have the option of relying on a man to pay her bills
      for the rest of her life. There's been a fundamental shift in terms of
      the expectation for a dual income family: There's a need for dual
      income families. I think women understand that they're in this game
      for the long hall.

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