Last week a friend of mine told me about a report stating 43% of Gen X women do not have children. Knowing how many of my friends in Gen Y are putting off children for various reasons, I don’t find it hard to believe. I understand it may shock many of the Baby Boomer generation, but I could immediately give valid reasons why. And I will soon.
I’ve had this report on my brain for days thinking about all the comparisons between Gen X and Gen Y, and the fears women in both generations have about starting down the road to motherhood.
The Wall Street Journal pointed to workplace stress as a cause. A third of high earning Gen Xers, male and female, work an average of 60+ hours a week, which leaves little time for a social life. Huffington Post Women spoke with Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founding president of the Center for Work Life Policy, who conducted the study, titled “The X Factor: Tapping into the Strengths of the 33 to 46 –year old Generation”. Her analysis paints an interesting, and likely more accurate picture of what happens. Twenty-eight percent of Gen Xers work ten hours more a week than they were five years ago – part out of ambition, part out of the recession and the need to do more with less, and part due to demanding jobs. Hewlett also suggested the decision to not have children is always theirs, but as you work to move up the ladder, or take other opportunities you suddenly reach the point where it could be too late, and the decision is made for you.
Why are Gen X women putting off having children to begin with? Like I said earlier, it is very similar to the reasons Gen Y women choose to wait, though maybe not as long.
- Pay off student loans
- Job stability and a higher rung on the corporate ladder
- Closer to or achieving home ownership
- Credit card debt to pay off
Gen X is by far better educated than the generations before them. Women and minorities make up 64% of graduates from the Gen X college years. More than one third of them hold a bachelors degree, while 11% hold graduate degrees. The side affect beings more people with student loans, which can affect your choice in job, with 43% saying the ability to pay off their loans was an important factor in their career choice.
The recession has kept a more Boomer from retiring, simply because they can’t afford it. The result of which means Gen X workers cannot move up, leaving Gen Y employees stuck in entry level positions for very little pay, and little hope of getting ahead for either generation. The news has been filled with stories about how both generations are feeling the crunch, unhappy in their positions, working extreme hours, for what is never enough pay, and little hope of promotion or raise. It has pushed many of Gen Y back to school, likely to put them in a similar place Gen X is in now, with additional debt in student loans and likely, credit cards.
With additional debt, Gen X was starting to achieve high rates of home ownership just in time for housing crisis. Now with little options in terms of financing, or facing foreclosure, added to their employment situation, Gen X is truly stuck between a rock and a hard place. Did I mention they were also hit with a recession as they began graduating from college and entering the work force? They will be the first generation not to match their parents’ standard of living.
My conversations with friends about when and if they will have children usually involve the big question marks of career and childcare. “Not I make more and can afford a nanny, or great day care” and “Have you heard how much private schools costs?” are common to hear, especially as many of us plan to remain in an urban area, and as in DC and most cities, education because a huge expense none of us had thought about. The bigger if, tends to come with “once I finish grad school” or “once my student loans are paid off” or “as long as I can do this without sabotaging my career”.
Seventy-five percent of Gen X women consider themselves ambitious. It can be frightening to think about holding back for children, dealing with maternity leave, sick kids, changing your schedule, being torn between working an extra few hours and spending that time with your children. For a lot of women, myself included, this is scary to think about. If you leave right at 5:30 most days will it hurt your chance for promotion, and if you stay until 7:00 what have you missed out on with your child and are hurting them in long run by doing this?
Generation Y women can learn a lot from Generation X women, and we may have already begun to just by waiting longer to settle down and even think about a family. But will we put off or opt of children at the same rate? Will it be decided for us if too many of us reach 40 before taking a step and saying, yeah, I really do want that. As careers take over our lives, we need to be able to see how it works to use flex time, telecommuting and other options to see how it can free up time, and how productive it is for us career wise, family wise, and for our personal time. Going into the new position I want to know that my personal life will be taken seriously and seen as important, otherwise how to do I know my family needs will be taken the same way.
Generation X women have made many options possible. But was it all worth it, or were their choices forced on due to a tumultuous economy, debt and the need to get ahead? Generation Y women should watch closely, and take note.