The shift from ‘family or career’ to ‘family and career’ through the 20th century is a story many of us are familiar with. But now there’s a twist in the tale. For, a century packed with varied elements — two World wars, baby boom era, heady days of the ’60s and ’70s, ‘decade of greed’, glass ceiling, and growth of pills — adds punch to Claudia Goldin’s research paper ‘Long Road To The Fast Track: Career And Family’.
The Fast Track paper essentially traces the transition of American graduate women, from the Class of 1900 to 1990. It looks at a time when “can you type?” used to be the single-most important question for potential job-seekers. Also when colleges were seen as “marriage markets”. (Incidentally, in India too, a career, or at least a job, often acts as a passport for marriage, according to Ms Reena Ramachandran, who’s been passionately involved with women’s issues and is director general at the capital’s Fortune Institute of International Business.)
The definitions of ‘family’ and ‘career’ in the study are also quite outlandish. Family refers to “ever having a first birth” and not necessarily to being “married”. ‘Career’ originates from the French word for “race course”, and it means “earning more than a college graduate man, whose income is well below that of the median man for several consecutive years”!
Then, towards the end of the century, as family and career were becoming increasingly compatible, the words started getting clubbed. And then the marriage happened, though not necessarily happily-ever-after. “They spoke candidly and honestly of desiring ‘careerandfamily’ or ‘familyandcareer’, as if the words were not three but one, and as if the timing of the two goals would not be an issue,” the study, which is part of the working paper series of the US-based national Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), observes. ‘They’ being the women who graduated between 1980 and 1990.
In fact, if ‘Close The Pay Gap’ is Senator John Kerry’s election mantra to woo women voters, this research paper could well be his quick reference guide.
Despite the continuing existence of the glass ceiling and the gap between woman-man pay in the US (77 cents for a dollar earned by a man), the transition is remarkable: From being a teacher and a stenographer/secretary from the Class of 1900-1919, to women of substance with varied professions (Class of 1966-1990). The study talks of five ‘cohorts’ or groups (graduating between 1900 and 1990). While the first group was focused on either family or career, the second sought jobs and then family. The third wanted family and then jobs; the fourth turned to career and then family and finally, the fifth group was able to marry career and family.
Although this research is US-based, India seems to have followed a similar pattern. There’s no question of either/or any longer when talking of career and family for a large majority of women in the country. The Indian woman wants to prove her worth all the time, as Ms Neera Misra, Ficci governing body member and business consultant to Ficci Ladies Organisation, told FE. Ms Ramachandran agrees. “There are far more women in the work place today than there were earlier,” she says. And the transition from ‘family or career’ to ‘family and career’ is quite similar to the international trend.
Ms Misra throws in some statistics. Out of the educated and aware lot, almost 75 per cent are going for the ‘killer’ combo — family and career. However, in India, a huge segment belongs to the unorganised sector. “I would say 80 per cent of the women in India go for family and career now,” says Ms Ramachandran.
Also, across metros and B grade towns, Indian women are increasingly getting over the ‘secretary syndrome’ and stepping into alternative jobs, quite like their American counterparts. As Ms Misra points out, the information technology boom has ushered in a great deal of change. On the whole, the opportunities are varied — in graphic and web-designing, fashion, trading, placement, catering and even flower arrangements.
The Goldin paper points out that the transition in the family-career graph occurred mainly because of changes in the labour market, growth of career-related colleges for women and delayed childbirth due to better contraceptives. In India, however, women are coming to terms with both career and family because of rising aspirational value, the desire to prove oneself, exposure to higher education and diverse occupations in non-traditional areas, experts believe.