According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett's research 50% of the top earning women never had children, despite nearly 90% wanting to. (The actual statistic: 49% of women aged 41 to 55 earning $100,000 per year in 2001 were childless.)
Even women earning more modest incomes had difficulty forming families. Of women aged 41 to 55 in the $55,000 to $66,000 income bracket 57% were unmarried and 33% were childless.
This disruption to family formation also afflicted the previous generation of businesswomen. Research by Felice Schwartz undertaken in the late 1980s found that 65% of executive women aged 40 were childless.
Why the failure to form families? It's not because these women didn't want to marry or have children (between 86% and 89% of high earning women wanted children).
One problem identified by Sylvia Ann Hewlett is that some women weren't proactive enough in trying to form families when they were younger and time was on their side. She quotes a younger woman, Amy, who was still holding to this "delay" mindset:
Amy is just embarking on her career. Her story is probably typical. “I figure I’ve got 14, 15 years before I need worry about making babies,” she e-mailed me. “In my mid-30s, I’ll go back to school, earn an MBA, and get myself a serious career. At 40, I’ll be ready for marriage and family. I can’t tell you how glad I am that this new reproductive technology virtually guarantees that you can have a baby until 45. Or maybe it’s even later. Go doctors!”
Modern medicine notwithstanding, the chances of Amy’s getting pregnant in her 40s are tiny – in the range of 3% to 5%. The luxury of time she feels is, unfortunately, an illusion.
Ready for marriage and family at 40! The problem is not just that she overestimates the reproductive technology. It's that she is so ready to deprioritise marital and maternal love in favour of life in a cubicle. There is a lovelessness too in her readiness to deliberately deny her future husband her youthful beauty, passion and fertility.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett believes that Amy is being unwise. Amongst the recommendations at the end of her piece are these:
Give urgent priority to finding a partner. My survey data suggest that high-achieving women have an easier time finding partners in their 20s and early 30s.
Have your first child before 35. The occasional miracle notwithstanding, late-in-life child-bearing is fraught with risk and failure. Even if you manage to get one child “under the wire,” you may fail to have a second. This, too, can trigger enormous regret.
Finally, Sylvia Ann Hewlett also recognises the problem of hypergamy, namely that executive men are willing to marry women younger and poorer than themselves and so have a relatively large pool of potential spouses to choose from, whilst executive women are usually oriented to men with a similar or higher educational and career standing:
Only 39% of high-achieving men are married to women who are employed full-time, and 40% of these spouses earn less than $35,000 a year. Meanwhile, nine out of ten married women in the high-achieving category have a husband who are employed full-time or self-employed and a quarter are married to men who earn more than $100,000 a year. Clearly, successful women have slim pickings in the marriage departments – particularly as they age. Professional men seeking to marry typically reach into a large pool of younger women, while professional women are limited to a shrinking pool of eligible peers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, at age 28 there are four college-educated, single men for every three college-educated single women. A decade later, the situation is radically changed. At age 38, there is one man for every three women.
Perhaps some things have changed in the culture of relationships since the piece was written, but at the very least it stands as a testament to the disruption to family that has taken place in past decades.