04/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Maybe Millennials Won't Know the Meaning of Mommytracking

Barack and Michelle Obama know it. Catherina Zeta Jones (who performed 8 months pregnant at the Oscars) and Michael Douglas know it. And of course, there's polka dotted M.I.A, Sarah Palin and Todd, Christina Aguilera...and practically the entire cadre of celebrity moms. Just because a woman is a mother doesn't mean she's less ambitious for her career.

The 2009 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW), which polls 3500 U.S workers across all professional levels, shows that "for the first time, young women want just as much to advance to jobs with more responsibility as young men. Moreover, being a mother does not significantly change young women's career ambitions."

Maybe millennials (those under 29) won't know the meaning of mommytracking! The report, which has been asking the same questions of three decades of workers, finds that "Today, 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)."

And men and women don't seem to hold motherhood against working women. "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% to 80%.

Even better, as women feel freer to express their desire for fulfilling work and family lives, men seem to be pitching in- or at least saying they should. The 2009 survey finds "only 41% of employees believed 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. Now, this could be the effect of social conditioning, political correctness, etc, but I'm going to be optimistic.

Women have to be ambitious these days, because we're shouldering more of the financial load. This change in attitudes must reflect women's changing roles in the workplace. We've all read that the recession is bringing more job cuts to men (82% of those who have lost their jobs are men) than women. For the first time, there could be more women than men in the American workforce. Although recessionary gender balancing is generally bad news, because men are losing higher paying jobs and women tend to hold lower paying (if steadier ones), the NCSW shows that the share of dual-earner family income contributed by women has risen to 44% and 26% of women now earn 10% or more than their husbands.

If what those polled in the report said is true, traditional gender roles are lessening in importance. And, as men take more responsibility in taking care of the kids, they are experiencing more work-family conflict than women--59% of men report feeling conflict.

I wonder if now that more men feel the stress of competing work and family roles, workplace and public policy will change more rapidly to better suit the needs of working families?

What I like about the report's findings is that roles and assumptions really seem to be shifting, especially among younger Americans. I don't think it's a coincidence that our First Family also reflects these roles!