Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Choices and Circumstances:Experiences of Life after Princeton for the Women of the Class of 1980

by Cynthia King Vance '80

The Class of 1980 used the occasion of our 25th Reunion to explore career choices and experiences though our reunion survey. Conversations amongst ourselves, as well as the popular press, had surfaced issues about the number of highly trained women who were not working or had cut back, about whether they opted or were squeezed out, and about the elusive quest of many for balance between work and family, or at least a better way to juggle. Many stories seemed anecdotal and the class survey provided an opportunity to get some data points. About 300 classmates responded and the proportion of men and women was reflective of the class. The following observations reflect the feedback of these respondents.

While many fewer women than men were working full time, most of the women in the class of 1980 were working. 80% of the women in the class reported working for pay, with 58% working full time at the time of the survey, and another 22% working for pay on a part time, project or freelance basis. This compares to 98% of the male graduates of the class working for pay, with 89% working full time.

Women have embraced non traditional jobs. 22% of the women were working part time (10%) or on a project or freelance basis (12%). These are options that women have pursued much more than men, with hardly any men working part time (<1%) style=""> Men working on a project or freelance basis worked 34 hours per week. These alternative work structures seem to meet a need to gain flexibility, generate income or stay engaged professionally, when full time doesn’t work. To some extent women have probably created these work options to meet their needs.

Most of the women who were not working expect to return to work. 20% of the class’s women were not working. Only a third of them considered themselves “retired” rather than on a career break or a student. The top reasons for the current break were the need for flexibility and child care demands. Almost all expected to return to work within the next 10 years, with many planning to return much sooner. Even in the highest earning households, as many women considered themselves on a career break as retired. The women who were not currently working were spending on average 15 hours per week on volunteer activities, compared to 3 hours per week for full time workers and 7 hours per week for those working part time or on a project basis.

Women and men’s paths diverged 10-15 years after graduation. The survey looked at choices over time. Almost 80% of both men and women in the class went to graduate school, with most of them going in the 5 years after graduation from Princeton. 75% of women classmates, and 81% of the men, worked full time in the five to ten years after graduation. This

participation rate then plummeted to 54% of the class’s women somewhere between 10 and 15 years after graduation, while men’s rate of fulltime work climbed to 83%. At this point 10% of the women were not working, 16% were working part time and 10% were working on a freelance basis. There seemed to be a flurry of reentry activity between 15 and 20 years out, when the percentage of women working full time rose to 60%, but then it returned to 53% in the next five year period, while men’s rate of full time work stayed fairly constant at around 85%. It seems likely that a many women have been in and out of various work situations, rather than permanently in one category or another.

Not surprisingly, the decline in the numbers of women working coincided with raising children... By the 15th reunion, when work rates had dropped, almost 66% of the women in the class had children. Over 81% of the women in the class were raising at least one child by the 25th reunion.

...And the number of children makes a big difference. 93% of those with one child (15% of the women) were working full time at the time of the survey, which was a higher participation rate than any other group (and a higher rate than their male classmates). The proportion of alumnae working full time declined in step with the number of additional children. 53% of mothers with 2 children (43% of the women) and about a third of mothers with 3 or more (22% of the class) worked full time. Looked at another way however, most (77%) of the women working full time are mothers, juggling furiously. Note: The survey did not probe whether full time workers had “dialed down” full time work. Men are more likely to work full time the more children they have.

Opting out or cutting back was not limited to mothers. What was perhaps surprising was the experience of women who did not have children (19% of the women). Only 68% of them were working full time, a lower rate than women with one child. Another 16% work on projects. Why weren’t more of them engaged in full time work, at the same rate as their male classmates? Did they achieve their goals, find a new passion, run into the glass ceiling or experience some other disincentive?

Certain career choices or fields may have been better for achieving either sustainable careers or flexible work. In this sample of women, all of the MDs were working either full (71%) or part (29%) time. Three quarters of the female lawyers and MBAs were working, with 67% of the MBA’s and 57% of the lawyers working full time, about the same proportion working on a project basis (9 and 8%) and 9% of the lawyers working part time, but none of the MBAs. The PhD’s were the least likely to be in paid work – 50% are working full time and 10% part time. Those with other Master’s Degrees were the most likely to be working for pay (88%), with most of them working part time (19%) or on a project basis (38%). Of those who did not get another degree after Princeton 64% were working full time, 5% part time and 9% freelance. It would be interesting to explore whether these outcomes reflect career opportunities, flexible options in different fields or something about the women themselves AND whether changes in the workplace will lead to different outcomes for subsequent generations of women making these choices.

Note: the breakdown of graduate schools choices for alumnae were: None 22%, Law 23%, MA/MS 16%, Business 12%, Medicine (7%), PhD (10%)

Earnings outcomes differed from expectations, which were more egalitarian. 63% of the class reported that they expected that each partner would make substantial contribution to the financial pot when they married (or the equivalent). Most (57%) of the classmates in a relationship ended up with the opposite situation – a relationship with a dominant breadwinner. 60% of the men in the class were the major breadwinner in their family. Almost 25% of the women in the class generate “a bit” or none of their family’s income. However almost a quarter of the married (or equivalent) women in the class reported being the breadwinner in their family and more women than men (51% vs. 39%) were in families where both partners make a substantial contribution to the household’s income.

Class of 1980 women faced several pressures and experiences which could have shaped a decision to leave the traditional career path:

  • Women had more disruptions to their careers, perhaps making it more difficult to “stay on track”. In every 5 year time period after 1990 (i.e. after the 10th reunion) women reported more career disruptions than men. Over 20% of the women experienced what they considered to be a “major” career break in each of these time periods, which was 2 to 3 times the rate of men. As alluded to earlier, the years between the 10th and the 15th reunions was a period of change for a large number of women in the class – with almost 30% reporting a major career disruption and another 15% having a minor break. Women have experienced slightly more job changes since graduation, 3.6 times, compared to 3.3 times for men. (Note: 20% of class has changed jobs 6 or more times since graduation)

  • Working full time is highly time consuming. The average 1980 Princetonian working full time worked 52 hours per week (excluding commuting), with men working about 2 hours a week longer than women. We can’t tell from this data whether men are in more demanding (and presumably lucrative) jobs or women are just more efficient. Of classmates working over 40 hours per week, 22% worked 60-69 hours and 9% more worked 70 or more hours per week.

  • 1980 Princeton women do more of “the second shift”. The full time working women of the Class of 1980 spend 1.4 more hours per week on housework and 6.1 more hours on childcare and family commitments than their male classmates working full time. Despite variations in work commitments, full time, part time and project based working women seem to spend about the same amount of time on childcare and family commitments (between 25 and 29 hours per week).Women on career break spend about 45 hours per week taking care of their family.

  • The work environment hasn’t always been encouraging. 54% of women in the class, compared to 12% of men, reported experiencing harassment or discrimination in the workplace, most of which they considered gender related.

Class members seem mostly satisfied with these outcomes. Of those classmates who HAD expectations upon graduation, over 80% reported that their personal lives met or exceeded those expectations and over 75% reported that their professional life met or exceeded their expectations. Satisfaction with their professional outcome varied for women depending on their work situation – with those who were retired not surprisingly the most satisfied and full time workers more satisfied than others. Almost 30% of the class said that they did not have professional expectations when they graduated and about 15% did not have personal expectations. When asked what they wish they had done differently, classmates focused on kids – 21% of women wish they had more kids (as do 14% of the men) and 22% of men wish they had had children earlier (but only 13% of women feel this way). An equal number of men and women (16%) wish they had chosen a different profession. (Note: only 1% of classmates reported that they wished they had had less children or children later).

As background on other aspects of the lives of the Class of 1980 as of their 25th reunion: 82% of the women and 87% of the men were married with an average relationship of about 17 years. Over 20% of the women (and 8% of men) in the class met their partner at Princeton. Women and men are about equally likely to be single (13% of men and 15% of women) at their 25th reunion. Men are more likely to be raising children (87% vs. 81% of women) and to have more of them if they do (2.5 vs. 2.1 on average). The children of the class of 1980 ranged in age from newborn to over 21, but the bulk of kids were between the ages of 9 and 17. Almost 80% of classmates of both sexes went to graduate school after Princeton. Women were less likely to go to professional schools (43% of the women compared to 56% of the men) while a higher proportion of women received other Masters Degrees or PhD’s after Princeton (32% of women and 22% of men)

The survey confirms that women have taken many different paths and that whatever your specific choices and circumstances you are not alone - there are a substantial number of classmates in every category. But the results also prompt as many questions as they answer:

  • Does this picture look the same for other Princeton classes of the same “era” and for peers at other elite universities?
  • Does it look the same for women (and men!) before and after us, or are work environments and/or women’s and men's decisions changing the patterns?
  • What will the women in the class of 1980 do next? Will they continue to expand the numbers of part time and freelance workers (and push for these jobs to be adequately compensated)? Will they return to, or increase their time on, more demanding paid work when their teenagers leave home over the next few years?
  • What will the financial outcomes be for women and will there be long term negative consequences for lower work force participation?
  • How can younger women learn from this experience? Will knowing more about the timing and outcomes enable them to better prepare, manage and weather the career disruptions that are still likely to affect them?

The generations of Princeton alumnae can be a unique resource and support network for each other as we tackle all these decisions and transitions.

*With data analysis by Emily Moidudden, PhD student at the Woodrow Wilson School and the Office of Population Research


edj said...

Thanks for posting this. I remain stunned that my profession, architecture, remains as male-dominated as it is after two and a half decades of close to 50-50 m/f student ratios. A question that future surveys might look at is how many women returned to their original profession after taking a break to raise children. There are some statistics in architecture that imply that women architects do indeed return to work after raising children, but they are more likely to go into an allied field with more flexible hours, than they are to return to an architecture firm. (I certainly know many women who have gone this route.) It would be interesting to try to break down some of the class survey data by specific professions and try to determine if there are fields that women are more likely to return to and those that aren't - and see if some of us (and future generations) can't work to introduce more women-friendly and family-friendly changes into those fields where it would make a difference. Posted by Ellen Dunham-Jones '80, Director, Architecture Program, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA.

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