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Study: Women Now Value Career Advancement More Than Men
By Barbara Wallace
May 9, 2012

Women have surpassed men in placing value on career advancement, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.

Over the course of the past four decades, women have been making significant gains in their labor force participation and educational attainment.

Women now make up almost half of the labor force (46.7 percent); back in 1970 women made up only 38.1 percent of the labor force.

"Being Successful Is Very Important"

According to the Pew study, 66 percent of women 18 to 34 years old consider being successful in a high-paying career or job is "one of the most important things" or "very important", compared to 59 percent of men. In 1997, 56 percent of women had the same response, almost even with men, at 58 percent.

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

Marriage and Family Remain Strong Priorities

This change doesn’t come at the expense of the importance of being a good parent or having a solid marriage, the study finds. Marriage and family are strong priorities today for both men and women, with a score of over 90 percent.

"The workplace has changed throughout the last century," the study notes. "The shift from traditional gender roles to shared responsibility in the workplace and at home is considered a beneficial change for the country. 73 percent of Americans agree that the trend of an increased role for women across professions is better for society as a whole, and 62 percent believe that shared responsibility at home leads to a more satisfying marriage."

So while women are increasingly focused on college and career, the share who place marriage and parenthood high on the list of priorities is undiminished.

Women's Pay Has Increased

While women’s role in careers have increased, so have their wages and salaries compared to men’s. Women aged between 16 and 34 now earn more than 90 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same age range.

Women now surpass men in education; women are more likely to have bachelor degrees, with 36 percent of women aged 25 to 29 having advanced education compared to 28 percent of men in the same age group.

"This is a significant increase for women in education over the past several decades, and it’s reflected in the increase in salary parity," the study notes.

Half of Households Now Have Two Breadwinners

The study finds that women in today’s workforce who do marry and have children are not necessarily leaving their careers to do so: "Today’s woman often balances her career with her husband and children. Fully 48 percent of married couples in 2010 consisted of two breadwinners. Back in 1975, the share of families with both a husband and wife in the labor force was only 34 percent."

If these trends continue, we can expect women’s salaries to exceed men’s salaries at some point in the near future. Women will continue to be higher educated and will be qualified for higher-paying careers. Women will continue to increase the value they place on their career. Men will continue to pursue a stronger role in family.

Barbara Wallace is Managing Director, Finance & Accounting Search, in the Reston office of HireStrategy. HireStrategy provides contract staffing services, direct hire search, and executive search solutions in the technology, finance & accounting, sales & marketing, human resources and administrative professions. HireStrategy, an Inc. 5000 company, has been ranked by The Washington Business Journal as the top staffing firm in the Washington DC region, and recognized by Washingtonian Magazine as one of Washington's "Great Places to Work."

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