If only American men could look back to a time when their gender doomed them to second-class citizenship. Such a vantage point on the bad old days seems to do wonders for women, who feel they're better off than their mothers were when the patriarchs ran the show. A new book titled What Women Really Want—discussed by its authors, pollsters Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway, at a recent Good Housekeeping luncheon—gives a detailed look at women's current outlook on life. Drawing on surveys by Lake (of Lake Snell Perry Mermin/Decision Research) and Conway (of The Polling Company), it finds women largely upbeat about crucial aspects of their lives.
Despite the much-discussed tensions between home and work, women now feel they're better off in both venues. Most respondents said the quality of their family life is either "much better" (51 percent) or "somewhat better" (31 percent) than that of their parents at the same age. As for their work life compared to that of their parents, the "much better" tally dwarfed the "much worse" figure by 52 percent to 3 percent. When asked whether they agree or disagree that there "has never been a better time to be a woman" in this country, 72 percent said they agree. That's in sync with respondents' sense that women are far from powerless these days. How much control do they feel they have over their lives? Forty-one percent said "a great deal" and 31 percent said "a lot"; far fewer said merely "some" (20 percent), while hardly any answered "a little" (5 percent) or "no control at all" (3 percent). Women are also undaunted by responsibilities that until recently were viewed as beyond the female ken. One example: Asked to choose the word or phrase that best describes a single woman who buys a home on her own, three-quarters picked either "a wise investor" (52 percent) or "financially secure" (25 percent), while all of 1 percent chose "naive."
Now that women hold sway over more aspects of their lives, the things they can't control may stand out in sharper relief. Weight falls (with a thud) into this category. Thirty-nine percent of women cited weight when asked to identify the one thing about their appearance they would change—nearly double the 22 percent who said they're content with their appearance as is. If they could look either younger or thinner, more would pick thinner (53 percent) than younger (31 percent). Remarkably, 33 percent would shave a year off their lifespan if they could be their ideal weight for the rest of their days. Then again, so would 30 percent of men—which goes to show that the similarities between the sexes are at least as important as the differences.