Gender Differences in Career Ambitions

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A 2008 study carried out by the Families and Work Institute (USA) has proved that there are no ambition differences
between young women with children and those without.

The Study

Entitled, “Times Are Changing: Gender and Generation at Work and At Home,” the study surveyed 3,500 workers. The study is the only of its kind to provide 30+ year comparisons (from 1977 to 2008), of life on and off the job. The report is also supplemented by other public data to provide as broad and current a picture as possible.This year’s data is the latest addition to a survey that has been ongoing for 22 years. Because random groups of respondents are asked the same questions each time, it is possible to see how attitudes change.

The Results

The study have noticed significant trends with 'firsts'. According to lead author, Ellen Gallinsky: "There are many firsts in this study—the first time that younger men and women feel the same about job advancement and the first time that there is no statistically significant difference between men and women in their views of appropriate gender roles.”

Key Results

  • Women in dual-earner couples are contributing more to family income. In 1997 women contributed an average of 39% of annual family income. That figure rose to 44% in 2008. In 2008, 26% of women living in dual-earner couples had annual earnings at least 10 percentage points higher than that of spouses/partners, up from 15% in 1997.
  • Among Millennials (under 29 years old), women are just as likely as men to want jobs with greater responsibility. In 1992, 80% of men and 72% of women under the age of 29 wanted jobs with greater responsibility. Today the figure is 67% of men and 66% of women. The figure reached its low point for both genders in 1997.
  • There is no difference between young women with and without children in their desire to move to jobs with more responsibility. Whereas 60% of women under 29 with children and 78% of women without children wanted jobs with more responsibility in 1992, today the percentages are 69% (with children) and 66% (without children).
  • Men and women are both less likely to embrace traditional gender roles. Only 41% of employees in 2008 believe it is better “if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children,” down from 64% in 1977. The drop is even more pronounced among men (74% to 42% versus 52% to 39% of women). Now there is no statistical difference between men and women in their views.
  • Greater proportions of both men and women agree that employed women can be good mothers. In 1977, 49% of men agreed (strongly or somewhat) that a mother who works outside the home can have just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work. Today, 67% agree. From 1977 to 2008, the percentage of women agreeing moved from 71% in to 80%. Both men and women who grew up with employed mothers exhibit greater acceptance of working mothers than those whose mothers did not work outside the home.
  • Employed fathers, especially Millennials, are spending more time with children today than their age counterparts did three decades ago, where as employed mothers’ time has not changed significantly. On average employed fathers of all ages spend 3.0 hours per workday with children under 13 today compared with 2.0 hours in 1977. For employed mothers of all ages, time spent with children has remained at 3.8 hours. Today’s Millennial fathers spend 4.3 hours per workday compared with the 2.4 hours spent by their age counterparts in 1977. Mothers under 29 today average 5.0 hours compared with 4.5 hours in 1977.
  • Men are taking more overall responsibility for the care of their children. In 1992, 21% of women said that their spouses or partners were taking as much or more responsibility for the care of their children as they were. By 2008, that percentage has risen to 31%.
  • Interestingly, 49% of men reported taking as much or more responsibility for the children as their wives, indicating a perception gap.
  • Changing gender roles appear to have increased the level of work life conflict experienced by men. Men’s work-life conflict has increased significantly from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008, while women’s work-life conflict has risen less dramatically and not significantly from 34% to 39%.
  • Fathers in dual-earner couples experience more work life conflict than mothers . In 1977, 35% reported experiencing some or a lot of conflict. In 2008, that figure has risen to 59%. The level of conflict experienced by mothers in dual-earner families has not changed significantly during that time period (41% in 1977 and 45% in 2008).


The changes in attitudes and work/life balance trends may reflect the increased participation of women in the economy, which enhances women's sense of responsibility and authority within the household, and allowed men to take greater role in childcare and household chores. For men, taking care of children, cooking and cleaning has now become "socially desirable" according to the authors. And in a period of difficult economic conditions, women are feeling more empowered that they can contribute financially to household income.


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