The Ivy League of Mom

Why so much fuss about women at elite colleges aspiring to opt out of the workforce?

Published September 20, 2005 8:19PM (EDT)

Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski talks back to the New York Times.

It's that time again -- that time when the New York Times tells us about how Ivy League women just don't really want those high-powered careers for which they're being groomed.

In today's installment, "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood," Yale undergrads explain that they expect to take time off from their careers for several years -- or give them up entirely -- when they become moms. It was just two years ago that the Times' magazine proclaimed an "opt-out revolution" in which Ivy League women have started forsaking the workforce to be full-time moms. Now, it's front-page news that some of their younger sisters are espousing an aspiration to do the same.

It's easy to feel like an old fogey when you read about how these young, privileged teens are talking with confidence about the rich lives they assume that they'll lead. Of course someone will want to marry them and have children with them by the time they're 30 -- and not just any someone, but a man who makes enough money to support them and their offspring. Of course they will be able to get pregnant and have kids and raise them while supported on Mr. Right's riches. And of course this future will be fulfilling to them in every way, never mind that these girls don't know what it's like yet to hold a long-term full-time job, much less to have a baby.

Ah, youth.

We're thankful that our aspirations at age 18 weren't chronicled on the front page of the New York Times to be Googled by future employers, dates, friends, enemies and acquaintances for the rest of our lives. But after reading yet another glowing article about Ivy Leaguers who proclaim the most important job title in the world to be "mom," we worry that the Times has lost sight of the fact that more and more American women -- whether they like it or not -- are working outside the home while raising their kids.

Dual-earner couples are on the rise in the U.S., and more American women are entering the workforce, not fewer. Sixty years ago, two-thirds of all households in the labor force were supported by a single wage earner, according to the Employment Policy Foundation's Center for Work and Family Balance. As of 2000, that number had fallen to fewer than one in four households. And if current trends continue, the Center projects that by 2030 that number will be one in five households as the number of single-earner households continues to fall.

So while the Gray Lady is obsessing about how 18-year-old female Ivy Leaguers envision their futures and what it says about men, women, feminism, the Ivies and the American workplace, the rest of the country -- as in the vast majority -- is quietly going in the opposite direction. Surely, there is a front-page story in there somewhere.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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