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Career Aspirations

Young women now top young men in valuing a high-paying career
  • May 06 2012

In a reversal of traditional gender roles, young women now surpass young men in the importance they place on having a high-paying career or profession.

A 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center sought to examine how attitudes toward career success and other aspects of life have changed since a similar study was conducted in 1997. In 2012, it found that two-thirds (66 percent) of young women ages 18 to 34 rate career high on their list of life priorities, compared to 59 percent of young men that feel that way. In 1997, 56 percent of young women and 58 percent of young men felt the same way.

The past 15 years have also seen an increase in the share of middle-aged and older women who say being successful in a high-paying career or profession is “one of the most important things” or “very important” in their lives. Today about the same share of women (42 percent) and men (43 percent) ages 35 to 64 say this. In 1997, more middle-aged and older men than women felt this way (41 percent vs. 26 percent).

Interestingly, for men and women of all ages, being a good parent and having a successful marriage continue to rank significantly higher on their list of priorities than being successful in a high-paying job or career. Thus, the increased importance women are now placing on their careers has not come at the expense of the importance they place on marriage and family.

This change comes at a time when women are making significant gains in the labor force and in educational attainment.

According to the Census, in 2010, women made up almost half of the labor force (46.7 percent). In 1997, women made up 46.2 percent of the labor force, and back in 1970 women made up only 38.1 percent of the labor force.

On the education front, women have made substantial strides in recent decades and now surpass men in both college enrollment and completion. Based on Census data, about 44 percent of women ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in college or graduate programs as of October 2010, compared with just 38 percent of men in the same age group. In addition, 36 percent of women ages 25 to 29 had a bachelor’s degree, compared with only 28 percent of men in the same age group—a record-high divergence. Women first surpassed men in these realms in the early 1990s, and the gap has been growing wider ever since.


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