On paper, it should be a no-brainer.
Millennial women are more highly educated and have more labor market equality than previous generations. They’ve surpassed men in terms of educational attainment, and are entering the workforce with wages and employment rates closer to male peers than past generations.
And yet, despite these and other signs of progress toward gender equality, Millennial women are less optimistic about being able to successfully balance their work and family lives than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
According to Pew Research, 58 percent of millennial moms say being a working mom makes it harder to get ahead at work. A survey of Harvard Business School alumni found that 37 percent of millennials who aren’t yet moms expect to interrupt their careers for parenting.
What is it about today’s workplace that has talented Millennial women thinking about “leaning out” or hitting pause on their careers to start families? Let’s take a look.
- The Workplace Has Changed, But Not Enough
Millennial women starting their careers and beginning to have children are finding the same obstacles Baby Boomers and Gen X moms struggled with, realizing the workplace actually hasn’t changed much over the years. Yes, paid maternity leave is becoming more common, but work-life supports for working parents, such as flexibility and child care benefits, are not available to most working moms.
- Homelife Has Changed, But Not Enough
Women today still bear the heavier burden over men when it comes to balancing work and family, despite changing views on how home and work responsibilities should be shared. Highlighting that trend in its latest “The New Dad” report, the Boston College Center for Work and Families revealed that nearly 70 percent of modern dads view caregiving and financial responsibilities to their children as equally important, though they’re not as active at home as they’d like to be. According to the previously cited Pew Research study, 42 percent say they’ve reduced their work hours to care for a child or other family member, and mothers are more likely than fathers to have said they quit their job at some point for family reasons.
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- Cost of Child Care
Child care is the largest household expense for American families, costing an average of $18,000 annually. Understandably, the cost of care is a major consideration for working families. Care.com’s recent Cost of Care survey found child care expenses have influenced the career decisions of 69 percent of respondents. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed said they changed jobs for better family benefits, while 89 percent said they wished their employer offered child care benefits to help offset the challenge of finding and budgeting for care.
RELATED: Cost of Care is Influencing Your Employees' Careers
- Charting a New Course
As the third generation of women to really enter the workforce in earnest, Millennials have the perspective of learning from the struggles Baby Boomers and Gen Xers faced before them. Where Boomers or Gen X mothers may have opted out, Millennials are looking for different options. “They are trying to figure out a new path, perhaps one where they will not leave the workplace altogether, but take advantage of flexible work, shorter breaks, and reduced hour work,” says Emily Seamone of Women, Work, and Life, a career counselor and work life specialist.
- Prioritizing “Life” in the Work-Life Equation
Millennials are willing to make job and career changes to better manage work-life integration, Ernst & Young Global Limited found in a May 2015 report. According to the report, more than 50 percent of full time employees said they have or are willing to give up a promotion to better manage work-life. Additionally, members of this generation say they would change jobs or careers and take a pay cut to have more flexibility. “Today there are more flexible work options and professional part-time opportunities than in the past, which Millennial women may want to take advantage of as a way to stay in the workforce,” Seamone says.
- Opposing Forces
One way the work world has changed for the better is that women have limitless opportunities in terms of careers they want to pursue. The flip side of that, as EY’s research points out, is careers often really start to take off around age 25 to 29, right about the same time many women are thinking about starting their families. In this situation, moms find themselves wrestling with seizing opportunities at work – which could mean longer hours, more travel – and the instinctive pull to be home with their children. The struggle with work-life balance becomes both about managing your time and your desires for personal and professional success.