Young women today want it all—and they believe they can have it all, too. According to a study released today from the Pew Research Center, more young women (ages 18 to 34) value “being successful in a high-paying career or profession” compared to 15 years ago. Two in three young women said their careers were “very important” or “one of the most important things” to them, compared to 56 percent in 1997.
Far fewer older women (between ages 35 and 64) gave their careers such a high ranking in their lives; just 42 percent said they considered their careers to be “very important” or “one of the most important things” to them. (Interestingly, the value young men placed on their careers hardly budged since 1997; just under 60 percent considered their careers “very important” or “one of the most important things” both times the question was asked.)
At the same time, young women said parenthood and marriage are more important to them, too. More than 90 percent of both male and female respondents ranked being a good parent as “very important” or “one of the most important things” to them, and more than 80 percent said the same about having a successful marriage. The study’s authors, Eileen Patten and Kim Parker, write, “the increased importance women are now placing on their careers has not come at the expense of the importance they place on marriage and family.”
The study also found that while women still earn less than men, younger women face less inequity and the pay gap has lessened over time. In 1979, women earned 62 percent of men’s earnings, while today, they earn around 80 percent. That translates into $669 median weekly earnings for women compared to $824 for men (among full-time or salaried workers). Women ages 16 to 34 earn 90 percent of their male peers’ salary. “Women have tended to fall behind men as their careers progress,” write the authors.
The study follows on the heels of a recent Pew study that showed many 20-somethings are struggling in the current economy, and delaying marriage and parenthood as a result. That survey found that more than 80 percent of Americans believe it's harder for young people to find jobs today than it was for their parents, and that earnings for that age group (ages 18 to 24) have dropped more than they have for older workers. While most young adults surveyed said they can't currently afford the life they want, 9 in 10 said they will earn enough to live the life of their dreams in the future.
Taken together, these reports suggest an ambitious and optimistic group of 20-something workers who are determined to find success their own way, despite the obstacles in their path. "In spite of hardships, they do have a real sense of optimism," says Parker, who is also associate director at Pew Research Center. The recession, she adds, did not put a damper on young people's optimism. "They feel they have so much time ahead of them and that things will work out," she says.