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Young Women Value Career Success More Than Young Men Do, Pew Research Center Report Shows

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We knew that young women in some areas of the U.S. were outearning their male peers, but new data suggests that career success is a higher priority for women between the ages of 18 and 34 than it is for men the same age.

The Pew Research Center today released the results of surveys conducted in 2010 and 2011 showing that two-thirds of young women (66 percent) name work as one of their highest priorities, compared to 59 percent of men in their age group. In a 1997 survey, 56 percent of women and 58 percent of men said the same.

Pew also detected an increased focus on career among women ages 35 to 64. In 1997, only 26 percent of women in that age group said that a high-paying career was "one of the most important things" or "very important." In the more recent survey, that number had risen to 42 percent.

The questions about career focus were included in a larger list of questions asking men and women how important they considered various aspects of their lives. Consistent with past surveys, men and women of all ages responded that being a good parent and maintaining a strong marriage are more important than career success, and women valued each of these things slightly more than men. From these findings, Pew concluded, "the increased importance women are now placing on their careers has not come at the expense of the importance they place on marriage and family."

The report seems to contradict new research out of the University of Texas at San Antonio College of Business and the University of Michigan which found that women had higher-paying careers or made more ambitious career plans when eligible men were scarce or perceived to be scarce, PsychCentral reported.

That research, published in the April 2012 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, also demonstrated that women did not think a shortage of men would make them more likely to focus on their careers but rather lead them to compete with other women for men's attentions, according to the Daily Mail. Those who saw themselves as less attractive to men were also shown to be more focused on their careers.

The researchers interpreted the findings to show that "an important factor in a woman's career choice is how easy or difficult it is to find a husband," Kristina Durante, an assistant professor of marketing at UTSA said in a press release. "When a woman's dating prospects look bleak -- as is the case when there are few available men -- she is much more likely to delay starting a family and instead seek a career."

ForbesWoman criticized that study: "Tying career aspirations to not-so-thinly veiled evolutionary biology arguments takes self-actualization out of the mix, disregards that a woman might have 99 good reasons to become a computer programmer (and an inability to hook a man ain’t one) and assumes that our need to be attractive trumps our ambition. Maybe we’ve just figured out that we’re great leaders and want to exploit that?"