How Can They Be Sure?*
Highly educated young women are reportedly intending to opt out of the career achievement cycle. Is this next generation of women taking too much for granted, or are they wiser than we think?
It was not that long ago that women finally won the right to vote in the US, and it was just within the last 25 years that women began to make it into the upper echelons of business and politics. Now, it seems many highly educated young women are rejecting the idea of striving for the top in favor of an easier life at home.
Many established professional women find this worrying, especially having observed the generation before. Maybe we are all a product of our immediate pasts, and maybe the world progresses in a “two steps forward, one step back” manner. In any case, those of us who have seen “the good, the bad and the ugly” of life are sounding a cautionary note: do today's young women really know what they are getting into? Are they aware of the huge opportunity cost of the choice to stand down from serious professional careers and, importantly, the independence that having a career gains for a woman?
Perhaps the younger generation is trying to avoid the opportunity cost that the previous generation invested in their careers, often at the expense of the rest of their lives. If this is so, surely it is worth finding a better way to do it rather than giving up the effort altogether.
On an individual level, as long as we each make our choices on an informed basis and know what we want, then it can turn out well. The key is to make sure we understand the consequences of our choices — not just what it means for us now, but also the implications for us later, when it is late in the day to make a change.
From a societal standpoint, it would be too painful to see the tide turn back based on uninformed choices and have it all end in tears. In that scenario, it will be a hollow “victory” to be able to say “I told you so.”
*Adapted from the song, “How Can I Be Sure” (written by Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati and originally recorded by The Young Rascals).