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New Book Explores the Question of Career vs. Children - 2002-06-15

Must U.S. women choose between a high-powered career and parenthood? Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett explores that question in a new book called "Creating a Life". She observes almost half the 40-year-old U.S. corporate executive women, have no children, while many more of their male counterparts do have children.

The key career-building years, the late 20s and 30s, also happen to be a woman's prime fertility years. That, Sylvia Ann Hewlett says, is part of why many career women don't have children.

But, she says, her research indicates the U.S. corporate lifestyle is a bigger contributing factor. "There are only three countries in the world where there are very high rates of childlessness amongst educated women," she says. "They are the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. They share a very market driven employment pattern with 50 to 60 hour workloads being very common in the professional ranks."

All three countries also have inadequate child care offerings, poor maternity benefits, and generally weak government supports for working families, Ms. Hewlett says. "And finally, what these three countries share is a very traditional division of labor at home, with women continuing to pick up about 75 percent of housework and childcare," she says.

As a result, Ms. Hewlett concludes, U.S. corporate executives, men and women, who want to have families must have a marital partner willing to devote himself or herself to taking care of the family.

Jo Wiess, an analyst for Catalyst, a firm specializing in research on working women, says in the United States, the statistics show, most top male executives are lucky enough to have such a partner. "Most of our research tells us that this is one of the realities of corporate life," he says. "Most senior executive men do have traditional family structures with the wife who does not work, whereas the women senior executives are in dual career marriages."

That's why more senior executive men have children, Sylvia Hewlett says. She does not recommend career women find themselves stay-at-home husbands. Rather she recommends Americans think about changing the system. "In France there are 35 hour a week jobs available in many sectors," she says. "In Sweden you have a right to a six hour day of you have a child under eight. We forget that in other nations conditions are more permissive to women doing both things."

Sylvia Hewlett says there are signs the present system is pushing women out of the job market. According to the Census Bureau, the number of U.S. women with young children who were working fell five percent between 1998 and 2000.