Monday, October 18, 2021

Claudia Goldin's "Career and Family"

Claudia Goldin is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Her books include Women Working Longer, The Race between Education and Technology, The Defining Moment, and Understanding the Gender Gap.

Goldin applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity, and she reported the following:
From page 99:
So, how did Friedan ever get the idea that college women of the 1950s had lost the Puritan work ethic? Perhaps part of her thinking is reflected in the reality that, though almost all were employed, just 18 percent of the graduates in 1957 stated that they “planned to have a career.” Most responded that they would stop work when they married or had children. And that’s precisely what they did. Yet most of those who planned to stop work were confident that they would eventually return—and they did. These were not women who intended to be Margaret Andersons and June Cleavers.

Did they keep their intentions seven years later, when most were married and many had young children? For the most part, they did. Seven years after graduation, 85 percent of the class was married, and 78 percent of that group had children, almost all of whom were pre- schoolers. Most of the women had young kids when social norms argued against employment for mothers with preschool children, at a time when childcare facilities were rare. Yet even among those with preschoolers, 26 percent were employed.

It cannot be emphasized enough: these were not women lacking in ambition. About half of the college graduates were employed, and almost a fifth of those employed were also attending graduate school. But they often eschewed calling themselves career women. As one put it, “I am a housewife and mother and not a complete career-type of woman [but] I do enjoy teaching school.”

That did not mean they wanted to remain at home full-time. Although most claimed that they were working to support their families, 13 percent stated that their current employment was “to have a career,” and an additional one-quarter mentioned that they wanted to pursue a career at some later date. Significantly, more than 80 percent in 1964 aspired to be employed in the future (including those currently employed).
Page 99 contains one of my favorite passages in the book (maybe I just have a lot of favorites). It tells the readers about one important part of the book but does not give the readers a full sense of it. But why would a random page in the middle or the first third or first quarter of a book tell the readers about the entire book? The book would then be highly repetitive. My page 99 would be a great way of whetting the appetite of readers. I suspect it would create enough interest to get them to want to read more. It is an engaging discussion of a famous writer (Betty Friedan), whose book (The Feminine Mystique) sold millions and who became a social and political icon. She was a great writer, but she misrepresented economic and social data and described a group of women as retrograde rather than as one that made progress relative to the past.

The groups of women described on page 99 span the first half of the twentieth century. The book covers groups of women until today. The women described were striving for something more than what they had. One group had to make a choice between a career and a family; another had a family and then a job. But women today want a career and a family. What is standing in their way? It is the concept of “Greedy Work.” The “new problem with no name,” to paraphrase Friedan, just got one. But what is greedy work and what are the solutions? That will take reading the book.
Learn more about Career and Family at the Princeton University Press website and follow Claudia Goldin on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue