- Birth, Death, and Working Life: A Critical Balance
- The Continental Divide Between Workers and Jobs
- Rise of the Megacities: Is China Ahead of the Curve?
- The Immigration Fix
- LGBT: Acronym for a Changing Nation
- Millennials and Gender: A Major Attitude Shift
- Minority: A Word Without Meaning?
- The Many New Faces of the American Family
In 2012, when Anne-Marie Slaughter came out with the article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in the pages of The Atlantic, ambitious millennials—a generation roughly defined as those born between 1980 and 2003—let out a collective gasp. Slaughter had it all if anyone did: Ivy League education, big job at the State Department, a husband willing to share the work at home, enough money for child care. Yet she still felt like it was all too much.
Millennials, who had inherited the have-it-all ethos from parents like Slaughter, started an online conversation that hasn’t stopped, determined to find a definition of “having it all” that works.
To do that, they’re redefining the very meaning of gender. According to a study by the Intelligence Group, a consumer insights company, more than two-thirds of people ages 14 to 34 say gender no longer defines destiny or behavior as it once did. And a recent Pew study found that while more millennial women aspire to be bosses (34 percent) than their male peers do (24 percent), neither gender seems very focused on that promotion.
At the same time, two-thirds of millennials still think it’s easier for men to get ahead. By the same percentage, they say that needs to change.
“If women are in the workplace to stay, there is a sense women need an equal opportunity to earn a living and succeed, and men need an equal opportunity to be caretakers and to find more balance so they can all share in the private pursuits that may not have been available to them in the past,” says Kathleen Gerson, a professor of sociology at New York University.
Unlike the generation before them, lots of millennials had working mothers as well as fathers who helped at home, and even those in more traditional families got the message that equality is possible and important. “Having watched their own parents trying to create these types of relationships, they saw that the obstacles are significant and the pressures have intensified,” says Gerson. “There are now pressures to work longer and harder. On the other side of the ledger, there is a rising pressure to be a devoted parent, to shower your children with attention, and to be there for them.”
To combine equitable partnership, a fulfilling career, and good parenthood means redefining all three, says Morley Winograd, who has co-authored three books on millennials. “They are already pushing back hard against requirements to show up for work,” he says. “They really don’t see the necessity for that, and they’re looking not for a balance between work and life as much a blend—work being a part of it, raising a family being another part of it—and organizing it so it all happens in a way that is not harried.”
The fact that millennials are marrying later and having fewer children is one response to that ambition, and advances in personal tech are helping support it. As their grandparents’ lives were changed by washing machines, microwaves, and TV dinners, millennials have devices and apps for everything from speed dating and telecommuting to bill paying and diaper delivery.
“The broader impact is that technology offers the opportunity and provides tools for having it all,” says Winograd. “But it will also create tremendous demand for the tech world to respond to—bandwidth capacity, price of communications. Those are all going to be under a lot of pressure.”
The millennials’ aspirations have had an impact on medicine as well. People who have delayed having children are turning to in vitro fertilization. According to a report by Allied Analytics, the IVF market in the U.S. will grow to $21.6 billion by 2020, from $9.3 billion in 2012.
The future will still come down to compromise, says Winograd, but he thinks millennials will come closer than their parents did to a negotiation between equals. “Once you have two millennials married,” he says, “there are questions like, Who should work? Whose career takes precedence? How do we arrange that? What about the rest of the chores? I think all of those things are much more likely to be a co-determined decision than we’ve ever seen before, and that will be quite groundbreaking.”
Next: Minority: A Word Without Meaning?