The changing nature of ‘having it all’

“Men have become more egalitarian, but women are more realistic.” That’s how Stew Friedman, Wharton practice professor of management, describes some of the preliminary results of a 20-year study on careers and family life based on data collected from Wharton undergraduates in both 1992 and 2012.

As part of his work with Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project, Friedman surveyed members of the graduating classes from both years and compared the results. He also checked back in with the 1992 graduates to see how their attitudes had changed after 20 years in the working world.

Among his findings: In 1992, nearly 80% of men and women responded “yes” to a question about whether or not they planned to have children. That number dropped to 42% for men and women in the graduating class of 2012.

“This result speaks to a number of important trends, one of which surely is the challenges today’s young people anticipate in raising children and having productive work about which they feel good, proud, and successful,” Friedman says.

While the survey did not ask for all of the reasons that students responded in the ways that they did, Friedman notes that one of the study’s other findings was that while graduates in 1992 expected to work an average of 53 hours per week, the class of 2012 anticipated spending about 70 hours a week on the clock — nearly two work days more than their peers from 20 years earlier.

“Think about … that perception of work demands just in terms of raw time,” Friedman says. “I’m not surprised that people are thinking, ‘I’m not going to be able to have children, or I will have fewer children.’ And the reduced likelihood of having children held true for men and women, which speaks to how the attitudes of men and women have evolved over the last two decades.”

The survey also asked the graduates to weigh in on whether two-career relationships are better able to thrive when one partner is less involved with his or her career. Men in 2012 were less likely to agree with that statement than men in 1992. But women were actually more likely to agree with this view. Two-career relationships are much more prevalent today than they were 20 years ago, when male survey respondents likely expected that they would advance while their female partners slowed down to accommodate a family, Friedman notes.

“Men’s attitudes now are increasingly more like women’s,” he adds. “It reflects that more male graduates now expect to be in dual-career relationships, and they want their partners to be pursuing their careers. Over the last couple of decades, we have set the cultural norm more clearly that women’s careers matter, and the advancement of women in society is something we can all expect and should support.”

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