Survey evaluates women’s career plans

Men and women at Yale value career and family to the same extent, but more women believe they will encounter barriers in balancing career aspirations and motherhood, according to a new survey conducted by the University’s Women’s Center.

In response to a New York Times front-page article published last fall titled “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood,” which asserted that undergraduate women at colleges like Yale intend to give up careers to care for their families, the Yale Women’s Center launched a study in the spring to evaluate students’ career ambitions. Released last Thursday, the report “Gender, Career and Family at Yale” found that men and women are both likely to continue to work full-time after becoming a parent — even if their partner can support them financially — but women are more likely to feel concern that they will be looked down on by society if they make that choice.

While some students said they found the results of the survey — which was completed last semester by 469 Yale students, including 153 men and 315 women — unsurprising, others said they were unsure whether the results were truly representative of the Yale student body.

Women’s Center Outreach Director Eric Sandberg-Zakian ’07 said he thinks the results are significant because they expose the flaws in the Times survey by proving that Yale women have ambitious career aspirations and men believe that caring for a family is important.

“The study shows that men and women at this institution are working toward equality,” he said. “It demonstrates that the feminist movement is not dying, which is a trend that media often claim.”

Victoria Brescoll, a postdoctoral research associate studying the social psychology of gender, led the survey for the Women’s Center. Brescoll said the study’s aim was to improve upon the methods used by journalist Louise Story ’03 SOM ’06 in the Times article. Story, a former staff reporter for the News, was criticized for not collecting quantitative data and excluding men from her Times survey.

“We wanted something a little more objective,” Brescoll said. “Our sample isn’t perfect, but it’s a great improvement over what [Story] did.”

According to the study, 87.6 percent of the men surveyed said they are planning to become parents, while 78.4 percent of women said they plan to have children. The study found that men and women are equally likely to continue to work full-time even if their partners can support them financially or if they are able to obtain high-quality day care for their children. Yale women are more likely to take time off work than men after having children, but only 4.1 percent of Yale women said they plan to stop working entirely once they have children, and 71.8 percent plan to take less than one year off from work, according to the study.

While fewer women than men said society would accept their choice to have children but still work full-time, more men than women said they would feel looked down upon by society if they chose to stay home full-time with the children.

Women’s Center Political Action Director Christine Slaughter ’07 said she believes the study’s findings indicate that men and women share similar life goals. She said she hopes the results will generate discussion on why women perceive barriers in balancing their careers and families.

“This survey is really a launching pad for people to step back and evaluate what women and men really want,” she said. “Students should take a look at this and realize that these myths about how women are likely to give up career aspirations is not really true.”

Slaughter said she also hopes the study will help break down the “myths” that women should put their careers on hold after having children and that men should not become stay-at-home fathers.

“Perpetuating these myths is very harmful to society,” she said. “We need to make it a possibility for men to be full-time parents, and we can’t lose the capital that women offer as a work force.”

Several students said that they agree with the study’s overall findings, but others said they are skeptical about drawing significant conclusions from the small differences reported between men and women.

Rachel Frankford ’07 said she believes the survey much more accurately reflects the opinions of Yale men and women than did Story’s reporting.

“This [survey] seems to be much better because it has statistical facts and not just a bunch of anecdotes,” she said.

Ryan Fennerty ’08 said he was not surprised that the study found that women experience more difficulties in balancing work and family.

“It’s still tough to pursue careers or do any advanced academic study when you have to worry about pregnancy and maternity leave,” he said.

Fennerty said he was surprised that fewer men reported feeling uncomfortable about how society perceives stay-at-home fathers than women reported feeling looked down on for holding a full-time job with children.

“I think society is fairly used to powerful women CEOs and women in government, whereas there really has not been a whole lot said about the male who chooses to just raise the children,” he said. “In the United States, people think it’s effeminate for men to stay at home and let women be the breadwinners.”

But Vincent Matranga ’08 said that while the study results make sense to him, the relatively small size of the population sample could have skewed the findings since many of the differences in opinion reported between men and women vary by only a small fraction. The fact that 162 more women than men were surveyed could also have affected the findings, Matranga said.

“It’s possible that these results could change if they interviewed more people and did equal samples,” he said.

The survey was sent out to each residential college master at the beginning of the spring semester, and students in Berkeley, Calhoun, Ezra Stiles, Saybrook and Silliman colleges participated in the study. The study will be published in full on the Yale Women’s Center Web site this week, Slaughter said.

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