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Gen X Women Succeed at Work, Have Fewer Kids: Study

Gen X Women

First Posted: 09/13/11 09:59 AM ET Updated: 11/13/11 05:12 AM ET

The women of Generation X are a hard-working bunch. They're so hard working, in fact, that many of them are opting to not have children, according to new research from the Center for Work Life Policy.

The study, titled "The X Factor: Tapping into the Strengths of the 33 to 46-year-old Generation," concluded that Gen Xers, who you might think of as the "Reality Bites" generation, have gradually shed their slacker reputation to become more ambitious and educated.

But they are also more likely to be childless than members of their parents' generation -- over 40 percent of women between the ages of 41 to 45 surveyed didn't have children.

According to the study, during Generation X's peak years, more than 34 percent of Gen Xers were enrolled in colleges and universities. Women and minorities made up 64 percent of graduates.

The downside to these positive numbers is that debt has been a major contributing factor in the career choices of Gen Xers: 43 percent of them said that their ability to pay off their student loans is an important factor in their career decisions, while 74 percent cited credit card debt as a factor.

Other factors that make the Gen X outlook less than rosy: Multiple boom and bust market cycles and the current housing slump. As a result, they're first generation not meeting the living standards of their parents.

So what's all this got to do with forgoing parenthood? HuffPost asked Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founding president of the Center for Work Life Policy and author of "Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Woman are the Solution" -- whose work has inspired some debates in the past -- to walk us through some of the study's findings.

According to a CWLP press release, Gen Xers are "choosing" not to have children. Does this mean they delay and then can't get pregnant, or are they actively making the decision not to have children?

The data show that at age 40, college-educated women in this generation do not have children, and that’s obviously towards the end of the childbearing years. I call it a 'creeping non-choice' because it's nuanced: You don’t wake up one day and say, 'I'm not going to have kids.' It’s a decision that falls out of other circumstances. Other important factors and opportunities crowd out the possibility of having children.

36 percent of Gen X men also don’t have children by age 40, but women are paying a more permanent price because guys can have children when they're 55.

It's also true that whether it's extreme jobs, or the financial pressure on this generation, many individuals decide they want to do two things well, and not three things badly. Those two things are their relationship and their career.

According to your findings, some of the reasons Gen X women aren’t having kids are career ambition and economic challenges, as well as changing mores and life choices. Can you explain how these factors are deterring women from having children?

I think more women definitely want to find success and fulfillment in work, love, and those are the two things that you're gunning for in life.

What happened to work is that it has become much more extreme: We find that 28 percent of Gen Xers are working 10 hours more a week than they were 5 years ago. That's in part because of the Great Recession. Everyone is doing more with less. Everyone's running a little scared. Unemployment is 9 percent. You really fear for your job.

There's tremendous work pressure and it's gotten considerably more intense over the last 5 years. Sometimes it's hard to find time to wash your hair, let alone date and have kids.

The study found that among non-parents, 60 percent of women and 36 percent of men feel their personal commitments are perceived as less important than those of colleagues with children. What's going on here?

Many companies have a bunch of benefits and support policies around working parents. There's flextime, paid parenting leave, telecommuting options, these things are not unusual these days. Often times, non-parents feel that all the best benefits are going to one demographic: those who are married with small kids. If you've got a two-year-old, you luck out. If you want to run a marathon or play the cello or volunteer, you have a really hard time getting any legitimacy around those things.

It's not that non-parents are [be]grudging parents getting help -- because they do understand this is a hard society to bring [a] child up well in -- but they're beginning to say, 'What about me? How about honoring and celebrating my life out of work? I also have a life.' Therefore, there's a big yearning to have employers pay attention to their passions.

One big recommendation of the report is that employers look hard at their employees and try to figure out what it takes to make everyone feel that their lives are respected and that we are inclusive in terms of giving support of lives outside of work. Maybe that yoga class at 6:30 is as important to you as picking your kids from soccer.

When it came to the men and women you surveyed, on which topics did you see the biggest differences in their responses?

We find that by their mid-thirties, and certainly by age 40, women are feeling more stalled in their careers than men. They are less likely to make it into senior positions. There really is still a glass ceiling, no longer the lower or middle management level, but at the senior management level, and that popped up in our survey.

One interesting different take from men and women was that when we asked them in this survey, what is your role in child care responsibility, 54 percent of male Gen Xers claim that they were sharing it equally, but women didn’t agree with them. Only 25 or 30 percent of Gen Xers felt that their partners were doing 50 percent. Maybe men have this aspiration to divvy it up equally, but they don’t always come through.

The study found this generation to be a particularly resilient one. How did you measure ‘resilience,’ and why are women in particular resilient?

It was the amount of times you've been let go and experienced churns in the market place. If you can survive that and hang on to your ambition and your work ethic, you're doing pretty well. Fewer women in this generation have the option of relying on a man to pay her bills for the rest of her life. There's been a fundamental shift in terms of the expectation for a dual income family: There's a need for dual income families. I think women understand that they're in this game for the long hall.

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