Professional Women and the Quest for Children




10 May 2002 09:54 GMT+1

Atlantic Books, £10

Baby Hunger: the new battle for motherhood, by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

How career women can win the mating game

Review by Melissa Benn

This is the quintessential book of our time, in both its intimations of despair and its extraordinary optimism. It also has a beautifully simple thesis. The more successful a man, the more likely he is to have a spouse and family; the more successful a woman, the less likely she is to have the same.

So what's new? Unlike many feminist writers, Hewlett does not attempt the broad sweep, the totalising theory. Baby Hunger concentrates on that endlessly fascinating sub-group, top career women. More importantly, it dares to probe the childless state, refusing to accept the glib suggestion that children were not wanted or simply did not happen. Hewlett uncovers a continuing desperation, barely masked by briskness and smiles. This is the baby hunger of the title.

As they slug their way up the corporate ladder working insane hours, particularly in America, most successful women get little or no chance to meet a mate or make a family. Should they find a stable partner, it is often too late. Hewlett, who had her last child at 51, is very good on the painful reality of late baby-making. Media myths and medical insouciance combine, she says, to mask the real difficulties of getting pregnant and carrying to term in mid-life.

The concept of baby hunger is manna from heaven to the back-to-the-home brigade. But it also describes a real dilemma for thousands, if not millions, of women. The twenties and thirties are the times when a modern woman is supposed to establish herself professionally. It is also the period when fertility is at its highest. Having both a family and a good work life can feel impossible, although Hewlett suggests that self-employment is one of the sanest options.

She makes many creative suggestions for improving the work/life balance, although you would not know it from the comment pieces the book has attracted. Much more attention has been paid to her suggestion that young women practice "backward mapping" and start husband-hunting in their mid-twenties. We are back in Jane Austen territory with Hewlett's sinister prescriptions that successful young women prove they are good wife material to potential mates.

Hewlett ultimately evades the question of women's greater responsibility for emotional and domestic life. Even if employers made every change she proposes, mothers would still carry the greater weight of private life and so will never compete equally with men in the traditional work world.

Baby Hunger urges women to act logically and take control of their lives, with a little help from government and industry. But as Austen knew only too well, the heart is not logical. Nor will the most sensible decisions stem from corporate greed, which uses raw talent to maximise profit, and damn the human consequences




Backward view of the role of women

by Alison Roberts

You can't switch on the TV or open a newspaper these days without finding an anxious woman apparently desperate to have a baby. In EastEnders, Sonia wanders around Albert Square clucking and cooing like a demented hen. In Sylvia Ann Hewlett's much-quoted book, Baby Hunger, young women are urged to heed the warnings of an older generation and keep a strict eye on fickle female fertility - just in case it's all over by 35 or, heavens, 27.

Now, a new and enthusiastic entrant into the debate takes the argument to a different, altogether more controversial level. James Tooley, professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle, has written a book entitled The Mis-Education of Women, in which he posits a simple central thesis - that modern life is making women increasingly unhappy; diagnoses the reasons - their careers - and suggests a solution: they should all stay in the kitchen. He calls female unhappiness The Bridget Jones Syndrome.

In their prehistoric hearts, argues Professor Tooley, what women really want are babies and husbands, the Aga and the nursery - yet "equality feminism" disregards all that and encourages them into high-powered careers instead.

By the time modern women reach their mid-thirties, successful at work but childless and alone, only a bottle of Chardonnay and a packet of fags for company, they realise what they've missed, realise that they're too old, and sink into miserable decrepitude aged 40. "Women are asking: 'Was it really worth it to replace the joys of motherhood and family life with a career of dubious worth, and loneliness to boot?' Is it not at least possible that when women 'exchange their femininity for the wage packet', something is lost, that making family life a priority might bring joy rather than being simply a predicament?"

Suspend your disbelief for a moment, because it gets worse. Young women shouldn't have careers at all, believes Tooley, since paid employment simply diverts them from their "natural priorities" (husband, kids, home) and, what's more, makes them deeply unattractive to young men, who start not only to resent successful women, but are themselves prevented from fulfiling their own ambition - at work, naturally - by having to bother with a domestic life.

It's all the fault of feminist educators and the Equal Opportunities Commission, he argues, which teaches girls to undervalue their natural biological desires (as above), and instead chase illusory fulfilment in "the masculine world of work".

More, and worse still, he thinks that women should give up economic independence - today's married women "work for luxuries, not necessities" in any case, he says - since financial dependence upon men is good for society as a whole. Dependent women satisfy the male urge to dominate and thus encourage better behaviour among naturally feckless blokes (Tooley loathes badly-behaved young men, but not as much as he hates badly-behaved young women). Girls, therefore, should be taught to find and "enmesh" a man in marriage just as soon as they can.

"Perhaps there really is something in the nature of women that leads to her happiness lying in the family and home and results in unhappiness when these are eschewed" asks Professor Tooley, and answers the question over 250 pages with a resounding Yes, There Really Is.

Are these views even remotely worth the attention of a grown-up? The unfortunate conclusion is yes, since Tooley represents the sharp edge of a growing backlash not only against working mothers, but against women who choose to prioritise anything - careers, having fun, expanding their minds, seeing the world, themselves - above starting a family. Biological scaremongers (watch out, you're getting on at 27!) and spurious evolutionary psychologists like Tooley (for example, he thinks females are "programmed" for just one thing) serve only to remove the power of choice from women once again and drag them right back to the Fifties.

As I read Tooley's book, and scrawled unprintable comments in the margins, I wondered what kind of a man he could possibly be. An old Victorian patriarch with a handlebar moustache and a large, phallic pipe? A bitter divorcee with an unresolved mother-fixation? Either of these was entirely plausible.

In fact, Tooley looks and speaks like a wily politician, possibly ex-army, in smart blue suit, nondescript silk tie and highly polished black leather brogues. He's perfectly amiable, likeable even, and doesn't flinch (or laugh) when I ask him to "be mother" and pour the tea. For an academic, his interview technique is skilful - rarely does he give a straight answer to a straight yes/no question - and his West Country voice is so soft, verging on inaudible, that at times he gives the distinct impression of whispering, like a man who knows he's on very dangerous ground.

His views are straight out of the far Right libertarian drawer, of course, and it'll come as no surprise that the one working woman he admires, and makes an exception for, is Margaret Thatcher. Maggie had power over the entire UK economy. Does he think women should be allowed their own bank accounts? He mumbles, and whispers. I think he says "no". I ask again, and he replies: "Oh, well, joint accounts are fine. Look, I'm not saying that all women want these things, but that, in my opinion and according to the evidence, most do. The pivotal argument of my book is that the Government, through the Equal Opportunities Commission and in education, has over the years made it its business to steer girls away from their desire for domesticity and motherhood. I'm asking whether that's a good idea."

Tooley was born in 1959 into what was then a traditional household. His mum was a nurse who worked nights, but considered raising the kids to be her main task in life; dad worked for the Post Office and brought home the dough. It's an ideal model in Tooley's opinion - indeed, the only workable and desirable model there is, for men and women.

"There seems to be something terribly unsatisfactory about the current system, where children in the family are seen as a part-time responsibility," he says. "And inevitably, they can't be a full-time responsibility if people are at work, they must be something that can be farmed out to outside agencies. I find that principle quite objectionable."

Childcare is "disturbing", he says, because carers can't possibly love and cherish children as much as parents. Feminism is to blame for single mothers, by the way, since by granting women financial independence and easy divorce, there's no social stigma attached to men who leave children; and since males are biologically predestined to be irresponsible, it can't possibly be their fault.

If women earn more than men, could men not stay at home? "I don't actually think that men make as good a job of it as women. You'll know from reading my book that I think women are superior creatures in general," Professor Tooley smiles. But this is the oldest trick in the book, putting women on a pedestal (mothers are necessarily higher moral beings, blah blah), then refusing to let them come down and do what they like.

Indeed, Tooley shares this view with some ugly fundamentalist religions. In one deeply uncomfortable passage in his book, he comes close to endorsing the Taliban's view of western cultures that "allow women to be dishonoured and insulted as a toy". He writes: "Of course, most would agree that the Taliban in Afghanistan took it all to a most unwelcome extreme. But if they were wrong about women, that does not mean to say that we are right."

He says now: "Being the breadwinner is a source of deep satisfaction to men and something I think equality feminists are trying to undermine in boys."

So you're harking back to the Fifties quite consciously?

"I'd like to see us go forward to a time when some sort of similar division of labour between men and women is brought in or encouraged."

Tooley is single and childless, incidentally, and describes himself as a "slow developer" in terms of his personal life. "I suppose I have concentrated on my career and just haven't met the right person yet," he says, with no detectable irony. Remarkably, he claims to have been a Marxist feminist in his youth - -some of which was spent teaching girls in Zimbabwe, encouraging them to aim higher than babies and husbands, and pursue careers in hairdressing and nursing. Now he says he feels guilty about leading them astray.

But what happened to make him shift his position so radically? As a young graduate at Sussex in the early Eighties, says Tooley, he and his then girlfriend were steeped in the literature of the women's movement and regarded themselves as faultlessly pro-feminist. Yet he couldn't help noticing how she appeared less ambitious for her career than he did. Feminism was useful for men, he explains, since "it relieved me of any responsibility for thinking of her as a women with different needs and desires to mine".

Later, as a researcher at the National Foundation for Educational Research working on the National Curriculum, he dutifully devised "gender-neutral" maths questions that avoided "male subjects" such as football or cricket. "It was my own small contribution to creating the educational landscape of today, the landscape of Bridget Jones's schooldays." But men, he claims, are beginning to reject the kind of independent women who grew up with this "gender-neutral" schooling. According to research conducted in America, he says, career women make men "feel less masculine"; they "undermine the romance of being a provider" and thus appear "less feminine" in men's eyes. Implicitly, this is what Tooley began to feel too.

Just in case you thought it a male problem, however, a failure of men to grow up, he makes it quite clear that in fact women suffer more than men under these circumstances and that therefore it's purely a female predicament. Thirty-something women - that's the Bridget Joneses - wind up on the shelf, after all, while older, high-status men are apparently of limitless attraction to younger, twenty-something women.

At 42, though, isn't he leaving it a bit late to "settle down" himself ? He says that he wants children and that his own father dotes upon the grandchildren provided by his siblings. He concedes that "the sleepless nights might get a bit much, the older one gets", but has no fundamental problem with ageing dads. He doesn't have a girlfriend now - or, at least, won't tell me if he does.

"My views have changed over a considerable period," he says. "I've watched relationships between men and women and that's clearly had an impact on me. I've recognised my own shortcomings and aspirations, and I've tried to explore all the arguments. This is my coming out, if you like."

There are so many flaws in Tooley's thesis, it would take an absolute age to list them all. Is it academically credible to draw such broad conclusions from evidence provided by the comic fictional character of Bridget Jones? If girls only want to have babies and bake cakes for hubbie, how come they so enthusiastically outperform boys at physics GCSE, and indeed at every other exam? How come I hate sewing? Are we really brainwashed at school? Did anyone ever bother to ask women in the Fifties whether they were really happy?

Might the standards by which they judge personal happiness have risen in the intervening 50 years?

Perhaps Sonia in EastEnders really would be fulfilled by having a baby of her own, and women who do want children shouldn't leave it till they can't. But Tooley's strangely anomalous world-view, like a black-and-white Oxo advert plonked in the 2002 TV schedules, sends shivers running down the spine.

Girls, know thine enemy.


May 05, 2002

Cover review: Baby Hunger by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

BABY HUNGER: The New Battle for Motherhood by

Sylvia Ann Hewlett (Atlantic Books £10 pp304)

Don’t be fooled by the soothing cover, snappy title and cheerleading message to the girls; this book pulsates with misery. Crumpled tissues and hopeless regret stalk its research, full of smart women who allegedly forgot to have children. Sylvia Ann Hewlett reveals that an alarming 49% of high-earning women in her survey are childless, against 19% of equivalent men. Most of them regret it. The more a women earns, the less chance she stands statistically of having children, which makes for a poetic, if rough form of justice.

As a good liberal economist, she blames a corporate culture which demands killing hours (no time to meet a man), regular entertaining and travel (incompatible with family life), and uninterrupted commitment (time out for nappy-changing equals promotion penalties). But can we really blame employers for treating us like men, when equality has always been the goal? Not so long ago women who rocked the cradle wearing Laura Ashley smocks were poor saps, not the smug yummy mummies with yoga tummies of today. Feminism got it wrong, assuming in its arrogance that eminence would make educated women happier than trips to Baby Gap. It seems they want both.

Hewlett has a multi-point action plan, of course, and if only we could legislate against lost opportunities, make politicians and employers responsible for finding us husbands and making sure they do the ironing, for steering us through illness, divorce and all the other lurking nasties that life chucks our way, of which childlessness is merely one variation. Parental leave, flexitime and programmes to retain female executives post-motherhood all make human and economic sense, but few of us — 16% as reflected in the survey — believe in having it all any more.

Perhaps we know better than she the role of personal choice in the dilemma. Megawatt careers are demanding obsessions: if you want children you probably have to be prepared to abandon ambition for a while. So what if men are less likely to suffer professionally from parenthood, what Hewlett calls the “wage penalty” — they miss out on the life-changing intimacy of the mother-baby bond. Assuming the presence of a willing man, moreover, wouldn’t it be worth delaying being made a partner for the sake of a baby? Hell, mightn’t it even be worth not becoming a partner at all? The trade-offs that Hewlett rails against seem reasonable to me.

Besides, the reasons why successful fortysomethings don’t have babies are more arbitrary and mundane than this book’s Wall Street model allows. It might be a question of health or low sperm counts, not meeting the right man, or being madly in love with one who doesn’t want kids, or has too many from a first marriage. It might, in other words, be nothing to do with the office and everything to do with random inequalities which undermine Hewlett’s prescription for a multilayered, love-and-work synthesis achieved by strategic planning of our lives, and better life-work policies. God, I feel tired just writing it.

She wants younger women to plan for marriage and children. Certainly the biological facts need to be broadcast loud and clear: if you can get your first baby in by 35 it is advisable to do so, but I’m not sure women have been conned, as Hewlett seems to suggest, into delaying pregnancy. Rather, we have deluded ourselves as a matter of convenience. It is worrying, indeed barely believable, that 89% of high-achieving young women think they can delay starting a family late into their forties, and Hewlett is right that the burgeoning infertility industry puts hope in their hearts when resignation might be more appropriate. A late-forties baby is not so much a scientific breakthrough as a good, old-fashioned miracle, almost as mysterious for the career-slave as for Rachel, Naomi and the other Old Testament womb failures. But conned? Anyone who has sat in IVF waiting rooms, where immaculate 45-year-olds peruse the FT beneath montages of bouncing babies, knows that little illusion is peddled in such places. Far from stringing middle-aged patients along for the cash, doctors never stop telling them how slim their chances are: fertility specialists, the good, qualified, regulated, dedicated ones, are the gloom-merchants of medicine, and rightly so.

And I wonder about some of these sassy banker-lawyer interviewees. Might their malaise spring as much from being defeated as from feeling bereft? My guess is that at least some of their baby-hunger will abate rather than worsen in the “rolling loss” Hewlett describes so ominously. Once they have conceded defeat to their biological clocks — corporate litigators and the like are not known for their gracious losing — they might well cheer up and buy a house in the Hamptons instead. But power mavens, used to purchasing anything from male company to thin thighs, find it hard to hear the word “no”. The temptation is to keep on to buy a positive outcome. Money is useful in infertility: it procures IVF cycles, donor eggs (in America, not here), not to mention the Caribbean holiday when it all goes wrong.

What else might help alleviate the pain of Hewlett’s “breakthrough generation” and their younger sisters, who are doing even worse at combining success and family? Better reproductive information and childcare, sure, and also making adoption easier by persuading both social workers and birth mothers that relinquishing their baby to a 40-year-old couple is no disadvantage in its life. But sometimes people make bad choices and live with regret — which is sad, but not as sad as terminal cancer or even a guilty conscience. With its withering statistics, dire prophecies for those not already impregnated and fears that the “soul might shrivel” without children, this well-intentioned book ends up scare-mongering.

And, as its author knows full well, there are late babies. The technology-powered stork occasionally delivers the bundle of joy. Hewlett mentions some women who have snatched one from the jaws of the menopause: Jane Seymour at 44; Pulitzer prize-winner Wendy Wasserstein at 48 — they are rarities but if you can afford it, and are under 45, IVF is probably worth a try. (Fetching a baby girl from China, the alternative suggested here, seems like a contingency plan to me.) At least you can comfort yourself with having given it your best shot and your bottom dollar, especially that.

For many of this economically privileged sample, however, it is all way too late, time to get the puppy and the next big job. How envious they must have been to learn the facts of Hewlett’s own life: happily married, PhD, mother of three, her own last baby safely delivered at the age of — wait for it — 51. To be counselled on our shrinking window of fecundity by such a paragon feels rather like being told by Cher that growing old gracefully is the only way.


The career vs baby controversy sparked by Hewlett’s book

The Miseducation of Women by James Tooley (Continuum £14.99)
Has feminism failed women?


The Family
Pregnant Pause
'Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children' by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Reviewed by Anne Glusker
Sunday, May 19, 2002; Page BW08

Professional Women And the Quest for Children
By Sylvia Ann Hewlett
Talk Miramax. 334 pp. $22

Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett excels at hitting the right cultural moment. She's been generating an extraordinary amount of buzz (a Time cover, television appearances) with her new book, Creating a Life, which arrives at a time when a fertility crisis is escalating among a vocal and influential class of American women: educated professionals. These women have reaped the benefits of feminism and have waited to have children, only to discover that the reproductive window closes much earlier than they, and science, had thought.

Hewlett's project is twofold. First, she seeks to sound an alarm for younger women, so that they won't get caught in the trap of trying, often unsuccessfully, to have a first child at 37 or 40. Second, she explores the huge hurdles faced by American professional women who do have children in trying to combine work and family, and she offers a program of solutions.

Both worthy goals. Yet something in Hewlett's execution leaves a distinctly unfeminist impression. She seems to be engaging in rhetorical finger-wagging, as if she's saying to young women: Now, now, girls. Don't just focus on the boardroom. One of the respondents to the survey that underpins the book says it straight out: "Ask yourself what you need to be happy at 45. And ask yourself this question early enough so that you have a shot at getting what you want. Learn to be as strategic with your personal life as you are with your career."

Many women in their late thirties and early forties, after spending their most fertile years in graduate school or burning the midnight oil in a firm, are brought up unpleasantly short in the office of a reproductive endocrinologist as they hear the unwelcome news that even the most advanced ART (assisted reproductive technology) can't help with their particular situation. Anything that can be done to increase awareness of when fertility actually begins to decline -- around age 28, with additional precipitous drops occurring at 35 and 40 -- is welcome.

But we live in an age of extended adolescence. Many young women, like many young men, aren't psychologically equipped or emotionally ready to think strategically about their personal lives in their early twenties. We grow up more slowly than we used to, and it's hard to imagine a way of rolling back the cultural clock.

Another big problem is that Hewlett gives the lie to her own warnings: She had her fourth child a few years ago at age 51, with the help of fertility treatment. Her giving birth at such an advanced age is inevitably, and ironically, going to undercut the very message she's trying to broadcast (although she does underscore how hard a time she had getting pregnant).

In the second strand of Creating a Life, in which Hewlett explores the vast problems besetting women who attempt to have both professional lives and children, she adds to a steadily growing literature on the subject. (Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood and Susan Chira's A Mother's Place are just two examples.) Rather than simply address the reality of these obstacles for women who are already mothers, she examines how the existence of such problems can prevent women from becoming mothers at all. The same policies that would ease life for working mothers -- meaningful, promotion-track, part-time work, paid maternity leave, flextime, extended career interruptions with job guarantees -- could ease the way into parenthood for high-flying professional women.

Ease, yes, but ensure, no. For there's more at play in the epidemic of professional women's childlessness than just workplace policies and government-mandated benefits (or the lack thereof). Here Hewlett does delve into the realm of the psychological and the cultural, noting that high-flying men can be emotionally threatened by equally hard-charging women -- or else, in a practical sense, they know that in our time-crunched world, somebody's got to be willing to downshift a career to focus on the kids.

A strange kind of imbalance runs through Creating a Life. Hewlett seems to be demanding much more from women than she does from either men or corporations and government. She lauds one super-hard-working single woman for not making the "self-indulgent" decision to have a child on her own, while giving a pass to a man who worked so many hours that he hardly ever saw his children; he, Hewlett maintains, can always work on a better relationship with his kids when they're grown or get a second chance by turning into a great grandpa. The double-standard logic here is breathtaking.

When, toward the end of the book, Hewlett lays out her package of suggested government and corporate initiatives, she fails in an essential part of her mission: winning over those who are opposed to government/corporate supports for working parents (read: mothers). There's a growing and vitriolic "child-free" movement in this country, born of the frustration of employees who feel they are unfairly being asked to take up the slack for colleagues who are parents. They are joined by those who are anti-government in all things, hewing to the line that "supports" is just another way of saying "interference."

Hewlett addresses both these groups with the usual argument that children are the future of the nation, that "competent, well-developed children become productive workers who boost the GNP and pay their taxes. . . . We are all stakeholders in parents' ability to come through for their children." She doesn't need to sway people like me, who believe both that children are the future and that supports for working parents are the right thing, but she does need to convince the unconvinced. I doubt that her hasty mouthing of standard wisdom will do much in this regard. And that's a pity. Perhaps a subject for the next book? •

Anne Glusker, a former Post editor, is a writer in Takoma Park, Md.


BY HEATHER CHAPLIN | A strange thing happened to me the other day.

I was walking home from the corner store, a paper tucked under my arm, when I almost tripped over a baby. This child, who couldn't have been more than 2 years old, had broken away from his mother and was waddling toward me, shrieking in apparent delight at his newfound freedom or perhaps just the ability of his legs to carry him.

The toddler, who had a big round face, blotchy red skin and pale yellow hair that stood straight up in a wispy mohawk, stopped directly in front of me. He looked up the long distance from my shins to my face and stared at me as if he knew me. There was a pause. Then, for no reason that I can think of, his face crumpled into a thousand creases and he began to bawl, his arms stretched out at his sides as if he were being crucified.

For those in the know, spontaneous tears are as normal a part of babyhood as wet diapers. I, however, was not in the know, as the fine layer of sweat forming on my brow proved. But the heat building around my temples was more than just a reaction to the little red human screaming at my feet. Deep in my heart, I wanted nothing so much as to swoop the toddler off the ground and take him home with me. My fingers fairly ached to feel the softness of his fat limbs and the oversized roundness of his skull in my palm. For an instant, I considered boosting the tike into my arms and speeding away before his mother could catch on, or at least sitting down on the sidewalk and tickling him.

I of course did neither of these things, but I must admit that my baby-snatching impulses have been multiplying at an alarming rate. Without knowing how it happened, I have somehow become a baby-coveter. I have become the kind of person who turns and stares at every baby that strolls by, exclaiming, "Oh, did you see that baby?" I have found myself perusing children's clothing stores with nary a niece or nephew to buy for.

How, I ask myself, could this have happened? I am 26 years old, I'm in a stable relationship and I make a decent living, but I am simply not the kind of person who goes around coveting babies. I am too independent, too feminist-minded, too interested in having fun and flat-out too damn young for that sort of thing. Babies are for sissies.

Granted, I no longer hang out in hip bars until all hours of the night. In fact, I couldn't really tell you where the hip bars are anymore. And I suppose it has been a long time since I bought thrift-store clothes, pierced a body part or dyed my hair a color wilder than Espresso Brown. And though I'm loathe to admit it, it's also been a while since I escorted at an abortion clinic, volunteered at a women's shelter, served food to the homeless or marched to take back the night. Instead, I've focused on building a career I love and have forged a relationship with a man that I think will last the rest of my life. But does that mean I have to go around having babies?

For so long, I believed wholeheartedly that only the most exciting and important of lives could lie before me, and having babies had nothing to do with it. How could I have babies when I was going to write the great American novel, be a sculptress and redesign the country's social services programs? Motherhood seemed shockingly mundane. She just wants to settle down and have kids, my friends and I would say about girls we didn't like, girls who were beneath our scorn because of their lack of ambition or creativity or chutzpah. Wanting to be a mom, cooing over babies -- that kind of thing was just not for girls like me.

Oddly enough, I don't think that kind of thing was really for my mom either. The woman was pretty wild during my childhood. She used to throw huge parties where musicians from around the state would set up shop in our living room and play past the point their fingers began to bleed -- on into the morning, when she'd fix them breakfast. On special weekend afternoons she used to take me to dark sailor bars down by the waterfront where she went disco dancing and introduced me to bartenders who would fix me pink and blue drinks and let me practice my moves on the multicolored dance floor while they gossiped. Her friends were artists, filmmakers, musicians, and the only thing they didn't approve of was living a conventional life. "If anyone tries to marry you before you're 35," she used to say, "I'm coming after them with a shotgun."

She also used to say, though, that having my brother and me was the best thing she ever did. But I always thought it was just a happy coincidence that she liked us so much; it didn't occur to me there was anything innate about having children that brought the kind of joy she spoke of. I thought other moms were probably bored and boring, clearly at the end of their roads.

But, oh, what is this change that has come over me? A fundamental shift has taken place right before my eyes and beyond my control: babies, being a mom, buying those little no-spill cups, the whole thing suddenly seems cool to me. And even more important than that, it seems like something I could incorporate into who I am.

Perhaps it's biological, I think to myself. Although I consider myself so young, I'm a year older then my mother was when she started having kids, and I'm several years older than most moms of her generation were.

Or maybe, I think, I'm subconsciously picking up on a societal shift. Maybe the culture is going to begin revering taking care of children all of a sudden, and I'm just ahead of the curve.

Or who knows -- maybe I'm just not the bohemian rebel type after all. (I also find myself fantasizing about owning large quantities of thick, high-quality towels, if that means anything.)

What I do know is I find myself counting the years until I predict I'll be "ready" to handle the responsibilities of owning a baby. I watch young moms out of the corner of my eye, trying to imagine all the things they know, about which I haven't a clue. And I squirm with jealousy, thinking that every day they get to hear all those cute things babies say and every day they get to feel those tiny arms wrap confidently around their necks.

So for now, I'll stop in front of the Baby Gap windows and sigh at the tiny overalls and itsy button-down shirts, and I'll continue to drool over the babies sitting next to me on the bus, and I'll keep begging my friends to start having them, and I'll continue to wonder how a girl like me ended up aspiring to something like this.
SALON | Feb. 23, 1998

Heather Chaplin is a writer living in San Francisco.


Women face the trap of baby hunger

Amelia Hill reports on a new and controversial theory that putting off pregnancy to pursue a career can put paid to all hopes of motherhood

Sunday March 17, 2002
The Observer

Laura Penny was never aware of making a choice. She and her husband always wanted children; they just didn't want them this year, or the next, or, when it came to it, the year after that.

'It never occurred to us we were risking not having children at all,' she said. 'We were in our early thirties and the thought we should be in a hurry never entered our heads.'

When Penny was 35 and her husband, Will, was 34, they decided to start a family, but it was not to be. 'When the doctors told me I was too old to have my own children, I couldn't believe it,' she said. 'It was like being told the world was flat or the sun went round the moon.'

Penny's experience is not unusual: more young, professional women are remaining childless, but not because they are career-obsessed and their planning went awry.

This controversial theory that working women are leaving it too late to have children is aired in a series of reports in Britain and America out next week.

It is expected to be backed in a book called Baby Hunger, by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder of the National Parenting Association and once policy adviser to Neil Kinnock, former leader of the Labour Party.

The phenomenon, it is claimed, is that these women believed they were behaving in the best interests of their future children by adhering to the advice they received at school, at university and beyond: to establish themselves professionally before starting a family.

'There has been a definite increase in the number of professional women in their early- to mid-thirties contacting our group who have been knocked for six by the realisation they've left having children too late,' said Joe Thompson, national co-ordinator of the More to Life initiative, a group set up to help people come to terms with a life without children.

'These women are victims of misinformation and misconceptions,' he said. 'They thought they were being sensible and balanced; they were doing what everyone told them to do. After all, five years ago, the fact that fertility dipped so sharply after the age of 30 was hardly known.'

'I was told from as early as I could remember that I had to want a fabulous career and a fabulous domestic life but that the family had to come second,' said 35-year-old Dawn Dodgson [not her real name]. 'I was never really interested in my career - I always knew I wanted lots of children but I was made to feel ashamed of that.

'I thought that by concentrating on my career I was doing the mature and responsible thing. I ignored my instincts until I was in my early thirties and then I discovered I had left it too late.'

Shirley Conran, author of the Guide to Work-Life Balance 2001/2, published by the Work Life Balance Trust this week, has charted the problem across the UK. 'Younger women today assume that the battle to have life and love was won by their mothers,' she said. 'But nothing could be further from the truth.'

Aware of the bitter trade-off between a dynamic career and the satisfying home life that older women were forced to make in the past, Conran is concerned that younger women seem convinced their circumstances are vastly improved.

'Young women today believe that employers are more accommodating, that men are more supportive, and that they can rely on getting pregnant deep into their forties,' she said. 'If anything, however, the choices are deeper and sharper than anything women of their mothers' generation had to face.'

Gillian Paull, author of Mothers' Employment and Childcare Use in Britain, published next week by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who is an expert on the work and childcare choices of mothers in Britain, admits young women today are in a more difficult position than women of their mothers' generation at the same age.

'This is an issue that has not been resolved at all,' she said. 'The majority of young women are in for a nasty shock when it comes to trying to have both a child and a career.' The sad truth, Paull accepts, is that the rule of thumb seems increasingly to be that the more successful the woman is, the less likely it is she will find a husband or bear a child.

'The younger women in my legal practice just don't know what's going to hit them,' said Alicia Truman, a childless, 48-year-old barrister. 'They think it was only we - the pioneers - who had to pay such a high price for their careers, but when I look at my younger colleagues, women in their thirties, I see them needing to work even harder than we did.

'Very few of them have partners or babies. I don't know how they're going to squeeze a family in.'

Older women such as Truman and Molly Harlow, a 45-year-old political analyst who underwent three unsuccessful IVF attempts after discovering at the age of 38 that she was infertile, want to warn younger women against being lulled into a false sense of security over the time they have to start a family.

'I'm forever telling my female students, "Don't be afraid of letting go of a half-built career",' said Harlow. 'I tell them: "You are smart, well-educated and life is long. Career opportunities can be recaptured and you must not waste that small time of fertility."

'I beg them not to live to regret not having had a child. Young women deserve to be told the unvarnished truth - it will help them deal with reality.'


Useful links


Fertility facts

Sunday March 17, 2002
The Observer

· An estimated 110,000 women between 12 and 40 are currently experiencing an early menopause in the UK - 1,000 of them under 30. One cause is a condition known as premature ovarian failure, when the ovaries cease to produce eggs.

· Women who smoke are almost a third less fertile than women who don't and are more than three times more likely to take over a year to conceive.

· One in seven women seeks medical help to aid conception but the rate for IVF success is just 14 per cent.

· Chlamydia, thought to affect nearly one in 10 young women, could cause a third of all infertility cases in Britain. Cases of chlamydia have doubled in the past six years.

· At 30, a woman's chances of conceiving begin to decline. At 35, the chances are falling by 5 to 10 per cent a year. At 40, the rate of conception drops to a mere 2 per cent.

· Then there are the risks: miscarriage rates jump from 25 per cent in the 25-30 age bracket to 40 per cent in the over-forties.

· Sources: The journal Human Reproduction; Quit Smoking UK; the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association; National Infertility Support Network, CHILD; American Society for Reproductive Medicine

April 15, 2002 Vol. 159 No. 15

Making Time For A Baby
For years, women have been told they could wait until 40 or later to have babies. But a new book argues that's way too late

Listen to a successful woman discuss her failure to bear a child, and the grief comes in layers of bitterness and regret. This was supposed to be the easy part, right? Not like getting into Harvard. Not like making partner. The baby was to be Mother Nature's gift. Anyone can do it; high school dropouts stroll through the mall with their babies in a Snugli. What can be so hard, especially for a Mistress of the Universe, with modern medical science devoted to resetting the biological clock? "I remember sitting in the clinic waiting room," recalls a woman who ran the infertility marathon, "and a woman--she was in her mid-40s and had tried everything to get pregnant--told me that one of the doctors had glanced at her chart and said, 'What are you doing here? You are wasting your time.' It was so cruel. She was holding out for that one last glimpse of hope. How horrible was it to shoot that hope down?"

The manner was cold, but the message was clear--and devastating. "Those women who are at the top of their game could have had it all, children and career, if they wanted it," suggests Pamela Madsen, executive director of the American Infertility Association (A.I.A.). "The problem was, nobody told them the truth about their bodies." And the truth is that even the very best fertility experts have found that the hands of the clock will not be moved. Baby specialists can do a lot to help a 29-year-old whose tubes are blocked or a 32-year-old whose husband has a low sperm count. But for all the headlines about 45-year-old actresses giving birth, the fact is that "there's no promising therapy for age-related infertility," says Dr. Michael Soules, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and past president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). "There's certainly nothing on the horizon."

This means, argues economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett in her new book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children (Talk Miramax Books), that many ambitious young women who also hope to have kids are heading down a bad piece of road if they think they can spend a decade establishing their careers and wait until 35 or beyond to establish their families. Even as more couples than ever seek infertility treatment--the number of procedures performed jumped 27% between 1996 and 1998--doctors are learning that the most effective treatment may be prevention, which in this case means knowledge. "But the fact that the biological clock is real is unwelcome news to my 24-year-old daughter," Hewlett observes, "and she's pretty typical."

Women have been debating for a generation how best to balance work and home life, but somehow each new chapter starts a new fight, and Hewlett's book is no exception. Back in 1989, when Felice Schwartz discussed in the Harvard Business Review how to create more flexibility for career women with children (she never used the phrase Mommy Track herself), her proposals were called "dangerous" and "retrofeminist" because they could give corporations an excuse to derail women's careers. Slow down to start a family, the skeptics warned, and you run the risk that you will never catch up.

And so, argues Hewlett, many women embraced a "male model" of single-minded career focus, and the result is "an epidemic of childlessness" among professional women. She conducted a national survey of 1,647 "high-achieving women," including 1,168 who earn in the top 10% of income of their age group or hold degrees in law or medicine, and another 479 who are highly educated but are no longer in the work force. What she learned shocked her: she found that 42% of high-achieving women in corporate America (defined as companies with 5,000 or more employees) were still childless after age 40. That figure rose to 49% for women who earn $100,000 or more. Many other women were able to have only one child because they started their families too late. "They've been making a lot of money," says Dr. David Adamson, a leading fertility specialist at Stanford University, "but it won't buy back the time."

Recent Census data support Hewlett's research: childlessness has doubled in the past 20 years, so that 1 in 5 women between ages 40 and 44 is childless. For women that age and younger with graduate and professional degrees, the figure is 47%. This group certainly includes women for whom having children was never a priority: for them, the opening of the work force offered many new opportunities, including the chance to define success in realms other than motherhood. But Hewlett argues that many other women did not actually choose to be childless. When she asked women to recall their intentions at the time they were finishing college, Hewlett found that only 14% said that they definitely did not want to have children.

For most women Hewlett interviewed, childlessness was more like what one called a "creeping nonchoice." Time passes, work is relentless. The travel, the hours--relationships are hard to sustain. By the time a woman is married and settled enough in her career to think of starting a family, it is all too often too late. "They go to a doctor, take a blood test and are told the game is over before it even begins," says A.I.A.'s Madsen. "They are shocked, devastated and angry." Women generally know their fertility declines with age; they just don't realize how much and how fast. According to the Centers for Disease Control, once a woman celebrates her 42nd birthday, the chances of her having a baby using her own eggs, even with advanced medical help, are less than 10%. At age 40, half of her eggs are chromosomally abnormal; by 42, that figure is 90%. "I go through Kleenex in my office like it's going out of style," says reproductive endocrinologist Michael Slowey in Englewood, N.J.

Hewlett and her allies say they are just trying to correct the record in the face of widespread false optimism. Her survey found that nearly 9 out of 10 young women were confident of their ability to get pregnant into their 40s. Last fall the A.I.A. conducted a fertility-awareness survey on the women's website iVillage.com. Out of the 12,524 respondents, only one answered all 15 questions correctly. Asked when fertility begins to decline, only 13% got it right (age 27); 39% thought it began to drop at 40. Asked how long couples should try to conceive on their own before seeking help, fully 42% answered 30 months. That is a dangerous combination: a couple that imagines fertility is no problem until age 40 and tries to get pregnant for 30 months before seeing a doctor is facing very long odds of ever becoming parents.

In one sense, the confusion is understandable: it is only in the past 10 years that doctors themselves have discovered the limitations. "I remember being told by a number of doctors, 'Oh, you have plenty of time,' even when I was 38," says Claudia Morehead, 47, a California insurance lawyer who is finally pregnant, using donor eggs. Even among fertility specialists, "it was shocking to us that IVF didn't work so well after age 42," admits Dr. Sarah Berga, a reproductive endocrinologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "The early '90s, to my mind, was all about how shocked we were that we couldn't get past this barrier." But even as doctors began to try to get the word out, they ran into resistance of all kinds.

One is simply how information is shared. Childlessness is a private sorrow; the miracle baby is an inevitable headline. "When you see these media stories hyping women in their late 40s having babies, it's with donor eggs," insists Stanford's Adamson, "but that is conveniently left out of the stories." The more aggressive infertility clinics have a financial incentive to hype the good news and bury the facts: a 45-year-old woman who has gone through seven cycles of IVF can easily spend $100,000 on treatment. But even at the best fertility clinics in the country, her chance of taking a baby home is in the single digits.

In hopes of raising women's awareness, ASRM launched a modest $60,000 ad campaign last fall, with posters and brochures warning that factors like smoking, weight problems and sexually transmitted infections can all harm fertility. But the furor came with the fourth warning, a picture of a baby bottle shaped like an hourglass: "Advancing age decreases your ability to have children." The physicians viewed this as a public service, given the evidence of widespread confusion about the facts, but the group has come under fire for scaring women with an oversimplified message on a complex subject.

"The implication is, 'I have to hurry up and have kids now or give up on ever having them,'" says Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "And that is not true for the vast majority of women." Gandy, 48, had her first child at 39. "It was a choice on my part, but in most ways it really wasn't. It's not like you can create out of whole cloth a partner you want to have a family with and the economic and emotional circumstances that allow you to be a good parent. So to put pressure on young women to hurry up and have kids when they don't have those other factors in place really does a disservice to them and to their kids."

To emphasize a woman's age above all other factors can be just one more piece of misleading information, Gandy suggests. "There are two people involved [in babymaking], and yet we're putting all the responsibility on women and implying that women are being selfish if they don't choose to have children early." She shares the concern that women will hear the research and see the ads and end up feeling it is so hard to strike a balance that it's futile to even try. "There is an antifeminist agenda that says we should go back to the 1950s," says Caryl Rivers, a journalism professor at Boston University. "The subliminal message is, 'Don't get too educated; don't get too successful or too ambitious.'"

Allison Rosen, a clinical psychologist in New York City who has made it her mission to make sure her female patients know the fertility odds, disagrees. "This is not a case of male doctors' wanting to keep women barefoot and pregnant," she says. "You lay out the facts, and any particular individual woman can then make her choices." Madsen of A.I.A. argues that the biological imperative is there whether women know it or not. "I cringe when feminists say giving women reproductive knowledge is pressuring them to have a child," she says. "That's simply not true. Reproductive freedom is not just the ability not to have a child through birth control. It's the ability to have one if and when you want one."

You can trace the struggle between hope and biology back to Genesis, when Abraham and Sarah gave thanks for the miracle that brought them their son in old age. "She was the first infertile woman," notes Zev Rosenwaks, the director of New York Presbyterian Hospital's infertility program. "It was so improbable that an allegedly menopausal woman could have a baby that her firstborn was named Isaac, which means 'to laugh.'" The miracle stories have fed the hope ever since, but so does wishful thinking. "It's tremendously comforting for a 34- or 36-year-old professional woman to imagine that she has time on her side," says Hewlett, which can make for resistance to hearing the truth.

This is the heart of Hewlett's crusade: that it is essential for women to plan where they want to be at 45 and work backward, armed with the knowledge that the window for having children is narrower than they have been led to believe and that once it begins to swing shut, science can do little to pry it open. And Hewlett argues as well that employers and policymakers need to do more to help families make the balancing act work. "The greatest choice facing modern women is to freely choose to have both, a job and a family, and be supported and admired for it, not be seen as some overweening yuppie."

As it happens, Hewlett knows from personal experience. She says she didn't set out to write about how hard it is for professional women to be moms. She planned to do a book celebrating women turning 50 at the millennium and to look at what forces had shaped their lives. Then she discovered, in interview after interview with college deans and opera divas, a cross section of successful women in various fields, that none of them had children--and few of them had chosen to be childless. Many blamed themselves for working too hard and waiting too long--and waking up to the truth too late. "When I talked to these women," she recalls, "their sense of loss was palpable."

Hewlett had spent most of her professional life writing and lecturing on the need for business and government to develop more family-friendly workplaces; she has a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. And she has had children and lost them and fought to have more. As a young Barnard professor with a toddler at home, she lost twins six months into her pregnancy: If only, she thought, I had taken time off from work, taken it easier. A year and a half later, she writes, she was turned down for tenure by an appointments committee that believed, in the words of one member, that she had "allowed childbearing to dilute my focus." Hewlett was lucky: she went on to have three more children, including Emma, to whom she gave birth at 51 using her own egg and infertility treatments. Hewlett says she understands "baby hunger."

At least she understands it for women. Men, she argues, have an unfair advantage. "Nowadays," she says, "the rule of thumb seems to be that the more successful the woman, the less likely it is she will find a husband or bear a child. For men, the reverse is true. I found that only one-quarter of high-achieving men end up without kids. Men generally find that if they are successful, everything else follows naturally." But that view of men doesn't quite do justice to the challenges they face as well. Men too are working harder than ever; at the very moment that society sends the message to be more involved as fathers, the economy makes it harder--and Hewlett's prescription that women need to think about having their children younger leaves more men as primary breadwinners. They would be fathers as far as biology goes, but they wouldn't get much chance to be parents. "A lot of my friends who are men and have had families are now divorced," Stanford's Adamson admits. "When you ask them what happened, the vast majority will say, 'Well, I was never home. I was working all the time. I didn't pay enough attention to my family. I wish I had, but it's too late now.'"

Hewlett still insists that men don't face the same "cruel choices" that women confront. "Men who find that they have no relationship with their adult kids at least have a second chance as grandfathers," she argues. "For women, childlessness represents a rolling loss into the future. It means having no children and no grandchildren." While her earlier books are full of policy prescriptions, this one is more personal. She salts the book with cautionary tales: women who were too threatening to the men they dated, too successful and preoccupied, too "predatory" to suit men who were looking for "nurturers." The voices are authentic but selective; taken together, it is easy to read certain passages and think she is calling for a retreat to home and hearth, where motherhood comes before every other role.

Hewlett replies that she is simply trying to help women make wise choices based on good information. She is not proposing a return to the '50s, she says, or suggesting that women should head off to college to get their MRS. and then try to have children soon after graduation. "Late 20s is probably more realistic, because men are not ready to commit earlier than that. And the 20s still needs to be a decade of great personal growth." She recommends that women get their degrees, work hard at their first jobs--but then be prepared to plateau for a while and redirect their energy into their personal lives, with the intention of catching up professionally later. "You will make some compromises in your career. But you will catch up, reinvent yourself, when the time is right."

The problem is that Hewlett's own research argues otherwise: in her book all of the examples of successful women who also have families gave birth in their 20s. These women may escape the fate of would-be mothers who waited too long, but they encounter a whole different set of obstacles when it comes to balancing work and family. Biology may be unforgiving, but so is corporate culture: those who voluntarily leave their career to raise children often find that the way back in is extremely difficult. Many in her survey said they felt forced out by inflexible bosses; two-thirds say they wish they could return to the work force.

Much would have to change in the typical workplace for parents to be able to downshift temporarily and then resume their pace as their children grew older. Hewlett hopes that the war for talent will inspire corporations to adopt more family-friendly policies in order to attract and maintain the most talented parents, whether male or female. Many of her policy recommendations, however, are unlikely to be enacted anytime soon: mandatory paid parental leave; official "career breaks" like the generous policy at IBM that grants workers up to three years' leave with the guarantee of return to the same or a similar job; a new Fair Labor Standards Act that would discourage 80-hour workweeks by making all but the very top executives eligible for overtime pay.

Hewlett calls herself a feminist, but she has often crossed swords with feminists who, she charges, are so concerned with reproductive choice that they neglect the needs of women who choose to be mothers. In the history of the family, she notes, it is a very recent development for women to have control over childbearing, thanks to better health care and birth control. But there's an ironic twist now. "In just 30 years, we've gone from fearing our fertility to squandering it--and very unwittingly." The decision of whether to have a child will always be one of the most important anyone makes; the challenge is not allowing time and biology to make it for them.

Reported by Janice M. Horowitz, Julie Rawe and Sora Song/New York




Sisters have done it to themselves

Now this is a song to celebrate
the conscious liberation of the female state.
Mother daughters and their daughters too will know
Woman to woman we'll sing it with you.

Ahhh, the 80s. A decade where women decided they could have it all - equality, career, family, friends and interesting hobbies. Sisters were doing it for themselves and we all lauded successful women who were able to balance career and home life, women like Anita Rodderick of The Body Shop. A generation of women were raised to pursue their careers during their 20s and not worry about marriage or kids until their 30s. And if you found you couldn't conceive in your 30s? No problem, there was a whole range of fertility treatments waiting for the women who had the cash to pay for them.

Now the inferior sex has got a new exterior.
We've got doctors, lawyers politicians too
Oh yeah.

But have today's women 'got it all'? What are the sisters doing now? Judging by 'High Achieving Women 2001', a study carried out in the US and UK, it would seem that what the sisters are doing now is regretting their lifestyles.

These are the facts, and if you are a career-minded woman, be scared - be very scared.

In the
United States, 42 per cent of female executives are childless by the age of 40 and in the UK that number rises to an incredible 59 per cent. Whereas only 29 per cent of male executives have no children by the time they reach 40.

So what happened? Did these women decide to give up a family in order to be successful? Did they choose to end up childless? Apparently not, for only 11 per cent of high achieving women said they made a choice not to have children. Moreover, 25 per cent who were in the 41 to 55 age bracket, an age well past any hopes of bearing children naturally, said they still hoped to have a baby.

But wait, these statistics get even more sobering. Only 8 per cent of female executives aged 41 to 55 got married after the age of 30. Five years later and the figures were even bleaker, for only 3 per cent got married after the age of 35.

So here we have a picture of more and more career women ending up in their 40s and 50s childless and never having been married - and, seemingly, none of this by their own choice.

What's gone wrong? Jane Fonda and Anita Rodderick managed to have successful lives as well as families, why aren't these women?

Well, it would seem that you simply can't have it all. In your 20s you can choose to doggedly pursue that high-flying career and put in the 50 plus hours a week which 34 per cent of women executives do, or you can choose to not worry so much about being a high achiever and pay more attention to finding the 'right' man and having children.

In Baby Hunger, a book by Sylvia Ann Hewlett that is currently causing waves in the
US, she says that women should plan to marry by 30 and get their first child in 'under the wire' by 35. The news is for women not to leave child bearing to chance and fertility treatments, for the sad fact is that a woman's fertility drops by 50 per cent at the age of 35 and by 98 per cent by 40. Fertility treatment won't save these late starters either for, according to The Centres for Disease Control, the chances of a 42 year old woman having a child with her own eggs, even after advanced medical help, is only 10 per cent.

Now there was a time
when we used to say
that behind every great man
there has to be a great woman.

Perhaps the old saying was a more natural way for a woman to live - having a modest career, a family and the time to pursue interests - as well as be supportive of that high-flying male in her life.

Perhaps sisters really should start 'doing it for themselves' again and forget the social programming that feminism brought us. We don't need to sacrifice our lives to prove we can be high achievers; we just need to be happy.





Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children.
By Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Talk Miramax Books; 334 pages; $22.
Published in the UK as ''Baby Hunger: The New Battle for Motherhood''. Atlantic Books; £10

 High fliers and motherhood


May 9th 2002
From The Economist print edition

Woman's work, and all that

A SURPRISING number of women combine motherhood with top jobs, including Cherie Blair, barrister and wife of Britain's prime minister, and Tina Brown, the ex-New Yorker editor and publisher of this book. But you would never guess it from Sylvia Ann Hewlett. From beginning to end, her book is a puzzling wail about the high rate of childlessness among successful women. Is conflict between career and family news?

Ms Hewlett surveyed a sample of high-earning businesswomen and academics—large or small, she doesn't say—and found that 42% of them were still childless at the age of 40-55. Creeping non-choice, she says, is the reason: their careers take up so much energy that marriage and maternity are put off until it is too late. While top male executives tend to have spouses and babies (sometimes several of each), top women bosses often have neither.

The decline in childbearing seems to be partly related to the fact that women enjoy earning their own money and so delay the distraction that having babies tends to bring. Yet the truth is that proportionately more women become mothers today than a century ago. Then, the childless rarely had the comfort of a career and independent income to compensate. Ms Hewlett is right to warn women not to count on fertility marvels (even if her own youngest child was born when she was 51). But she is wrong to imply that corporate life cannot fit in children, if that is what you really want. Childbirth and work are nothing new.

The Atlantic Monthly | June 2002

What Price Valor?

Bravura displays of reproductive technology may shortchange the children
by Caitlin Flanagan
Like many poorly argued books, Creating a Life is essentially review-proof. As soon as the author, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, begins to worry one of her weakly held positions long enough for the reviewer to take aim, she contradicts herself or flits off to the next harebrained idea. Case in point: still smarting over having been denied tenure at Barnard in the 1970s (when she was a young mother), Hewlett reports that a committee member informed her she had "allowed childbearing to dilute [her] focus." But a scant eight pages back Hewlett had informed us that "what high-achieving women need are two things that are not yet readily available: reduced-hour jobs and careers that can be interrupted." In other words, they need to allow childbearing to dilute their focus. We might track down all the book's contradictions and try to make sense of them, but that way lies madness. Better to get a bead on Hewlett's general topic of inquiry, the tendency of successful professional women to delay childbirth—because of the demands of "high-maintenance careers and needy partners"—for so long that even reproductive technology cannot help them. Hewlett seems to think that she is presenting shocking news on that front, and perhaps there are indeed legions of women who will be horrified to learn that the onset of perimenopause may not be the ideal time to start knitting booties and pricing jogging strollers. To avert the risk of age-related infertility, the radical-minded Hewlett suggests—hold on to your hats!—that women ought to have children while they are still young, and the book contains enough accounts of failed fertility procedures to make this seem like wise counsel. Fair's fair: women of a certain age who seek fertility treatments endure enough misery—physical and emotional—that it was high time someone addressed the unpleasant truth head on.

But here's the curious thing about Creating a Life: the true heroes of the book turn out to be not those women who had their children early in the game but, rather, the few winners of the late-life fertility lottery, a remarkable band of "gutsy big-hearted women" who went for broke and managed to achieve pregnancies at near-biblical ages (Hewlett herself bore a child at fifty-one, but missed the Best in Show ribbon by a full twelve years). That there is something of the freak show to these achievements—at least one of the mothers made the pages of The National Enquirer—is almost certainly what attracted the attention of the book's excitable publisher, Talk Miramax. But more interesting than these bravura displays of reproductive ingenuity—the infants were created, variously, through donor sperm, donor eggs, a third-party uterus, and (perhaps most unexpectedly) good old-fashioned nooky—is Hewlett's attitude toward them. For example, the playwright Wendy Wasserstein's famous pregnancy seems to be the very model of what Hewlett warns against: it was preceded by seven years of medical treatment, severely compromised Wasserstein's health, and necessitated a lengthy maternal hospitalization and an extremely premature cesarean delivery. The resulting baby girl weighed less than two pounds at birth and was hospitalized for ten weeks, during which she required a blood transfusion. But these miseries are presented not as cautionary tale but as triumph: Wasserstein was "remarkable and valiant" for never giving up the fight to become pregnant. Indeed, the most obvious question that such a pursuit prompts—whether it is in a child's best interest to have a mother who will be facing the challenges and travails of old age just as her offspring is entering adolescence—is never mentioned. Why? Because this is a book from the perspective of "high-achieving women," and the main impression we get of the type is that they are going to get exactly what they want, and damn the expense or the human toll. These are women who have roared through the highest echelons of the country's blue-chip law firms, investment banks, and high tech companies. One interview was conducted over lunch at the Century Club, another in the "edgy and hip" offices of an IT firm; the relatively modest salary of a third woman almost disqualified her as a "high achiever," but "she snuck in by virtue of her magna cum laude degree from Stanford University."

Hewlett does her best to make us sympathetic toward such fiercely driven women, but the comments of a young male New Yorker—meant to reveal what cads high-achieving single men can be—backfire on her. He observes, "There's a whole bunch of them where I work. They're armed to the teeth with degrees—MBAs and the like—they're real aggressive, they love to take control, and they have this fierce hunger for success and for stuff. Everything they do and everything they want is expensive." And when they want a baby (usually at an ill-considered age, because of what Hewlett calls "a society that continues to thrust cruel choices on women"), their approach is similar. Chinese orphanages present an inexhaustible—if clearly second-choice—source of product; much better to get your hands on a donor egg, although that presents "emotional challenges." Emotional challenges to the child who must cope with his unusual conception? Of course not! The challenges are entirely the mother's, for "many women yearn for their own genetic child."

Hewlett presents a raft of solutions to the problems that she says have led to all of this—most concerning new government policies that would redraft employment law so that a woman can taste the fruits of ultimate professional success yet also get down to serious business between the sheets at an earlier age. In her advocacy for changes in the law, however, Hewlett merely reveals the central, heartbreaking flaw of the contemporary feminist movement—its elitism. "If employers were hit with overtime and fringe-benefit charges every time they squeezed an extra five or ten hours out of a professional employee, they might think twice about requiring long workweeks." The key word here, of course, is "professional." For millions of working-class mothers (a majority of whom have been unhappily thrust into the labor market, owing—in large part—to the victories of the women's movement) overtime is something you do to pay the bills, not a disagreeable disruption to optimal "work/life balance." Perhaps the best assessment of the situation facing the "gutsy women" comes in the form of a wan remark by one of Hewlett's disillusioned interviewees: "It strikes me that in the real world grown-ups have hard choices."

June 9, 2002  

'Creating a Life': Woman's Work


Professional Women and the Quest for Children.

By Sylvia Ann Hewlett.
334 pp. New York: Talk Miramax Books. $22.

Here we go again: a new book on work and motherhood, a flood of pictures in the news media of mothers cradling briefcases in their arms instead of babies, a familiar passionate and stymied debate.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett has made headlines with the survey at the core of her new book, ''Creating a Life,'' showing that more than a third of highly paid professional women over 40 are childless, many because they waited too late to try to conceive children or thought they could not balance them with a demanding career. Critics call Hewlett a retro antifeminist for suggesting that women pay attention to their biological clocks and focus on getting husbands so they can have children before it's too late. And there's the requisite glee as commentators wag their fingers at women who dare to want too much.

Yet the furor around the book all but ignores the important question Hewlett raises: How do ambitious women balance work, marriage and children? It's a real issue for the next generation of feminism; it's what most women care about, far more than sexual harassment or women's studies. As Hewlett notes, they are ''quite prepared to shoulder more than their fair share of the work involved in having both career and family. . . . At the end of the day, women simply want the choices in love and work that men take so completely for granted.''

Within her chosen universe of elite women, Hewlett exposes some discomforting realities. Many demanding, high-paying jobs are so all-consuming that to do them properly leaves almost no time for being a parent (or even having any kind of personal life). Whatever women are supposed to feel, whatever path would give them more power in society, the fact is that most mothers want more time with their children than work allows them. As a result, many women are taking themselves off the fast track because those jobs would not allow them to get home early enough to go over homework, to know who their children's friends are, to hear a confidence.

She also delivers a scathing indictment of the fertility business: there are too many women who expend tens of thousands of dollars and endure much heartbreak to pursue the very long odds of having biological children late in life.

Hewlett's solution is a provocative one. Given that women's chances of being able to conceive drop sharply by 40, women need to be ''intentional'' about their lives -- search for a husband in their 20's and plan to conceive by their early 30's. Her idea is both bold and shrewd: much as successful men have long done, women have to set their goals and plan backward to improve their chances of getting what they really want.

There is also an inherent irony -- to achieve the feminist goal of having both career and family, Hewlett advises women to disguise any ''predator'' impulses so as not to scare off the men they need to win. Her book is an odd mix of ''The Rules'' and ''The Prince.''

In one rather disturbing anecdote, she writes admiringly of a young woman who has landed her man. She's a surgeon, working the grueling hours of residency, who meets an older businessman. He asks her to join him at client evenings several times a week. And she does, though it means giving up desperately needed sleep and trading shifts at work. She's proved her dedication, all right, but he's proved his selfishness.

While Hewlett answers questions that few have bothered to ask about work and motherhood, she sometimes lapses into sweeping generalizations based on such anecdotes. There are some high-concept abstractions here: women can be divided into predators and nurturers, and men prefer nurturers. High-powered men seek less driven women, who will take care of them and their children.

Yet one doesn't have to agree with all of Hewlett's answers to find her questions important. Should women deliberately aim for family-friendly careers that do not penalize shorter workweeks, rather than choosing consuming fields like investment banking? The problem is that hard-charging jobs offer young women money and clout that can benefit them later even if they switch careers or slow down. If women avoid certain paths at one stage in life because those paths are hostile to family life, they forfeit the benefits as well as the strains. What's the better strategy for women who want careers and children -- to have children early, before they've established a reputation that might enable them to negotiate more flexible hours later on, or to build marketability and then have a family? In the end, how much does ''intentionality'' preserve opportunity, and how much does it constrict it?

There are some questions that Hewlett doesn't ask that are worth raising too. What about being intentional in evaluating the kind of man to marry? What if women actively quizzed potential husbands not only about earning power but about a willingness to be partners as parents? Rhona Mahony, in her book ''Kidding Ourselves,'' even suggests that women who want a high-powered career might want to ''marry down'' -- that is, choose men who might be less career-driven and earn less money but be more willing to share child rearing.

Hewlett correctly notes that whatever the hoopla about the new father, most men still do far less at home than women. And she is right that many women would not be willing to give up time with their children even if their husbands took on more at home. Yet there is little discussion in her book about fatherhood or about sacrifices that men might need to make. If men are not convinced of the importance of setting aside time to raise children, there is little hope that society or employers will make the changes Hewlett calls for -- allowing both men and women time banks of paid parenting leave, for example, or reduced hours and career breaks to raise children.

The arguments Hewlett's book has unleashed reveal both the distortions of the public debate on feminism and the unfinished business of feminism itself. For her critics, it's as if focusing on marriage and children automatically compromises women's freedom and cramps their ambitions. It's as if looking for a husband has to be conducted as if we were still living in the 1950's. Certainly, that's the case in some of Hewlett's examples. Fundamentally, though, ''Creating a Life'' is an attempt to help women think about how to get what they want. Her book is a jumping-off point for a national conversation that is long overdue.

Susan Chira, author of ''A Mother's Place,'' is editor of the Week in Review section of The Times.

May 12, 2002

Admitting to Mixed Feelings About Motherhood


Since its publication last fall, Naomi Wolf's "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood" has become a staple of baby shower gift baskets. Ms. Wolf, who has made a career of turning her rites of passage into social critiques, details the difficulties of her second pregnancy, the lack of support for new mothers and the toll that parenthood takes on couples. The book, which rejects the conventional, nurturing tone of popular baby advice books, is one of several published recently that challenge the prevailing image of this second Sunday in May — of motherhood as Hallmark card.

After two decades in which boomers managed to make children the raison d'être not only of their lives but of the culture at large, another version of motherhood is beginning to seep out, with some mothers speaking up — in the impassioned tones of those breaking a taboo — about the drudgery of child care, the isolation of the playground and their loss of identity.

"Motherhood is supposed to be this gauzy, pastel-painted, blissed-out state that has no depth or complexity," Ms. Wolf said. "That is the socially acceptable picture in the mass market. But women have discovered that the cultural mythology surrounding motherhood has nothing to do with their lives. Women are hungry for the truth. They want to know they're normal when they feel overwhelmed, lonely, isolated or ecstatic."

In addition to Ms. Wolf's book, others in the genre include "A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother," a memoir by the novelist Rachel Cusk, who confesses her disgust for breast-feeding and decries the "feudal relation" she slid into with her husband; "Augusta, Gone" by Martha Tod Dudman, an unvarnished memoir of the trials of raising an uncontrollable teenage daughter; and "Life After Birth: What Even Your Friends Won't Tell You" by Kate Figes with Jean Zimmerman, a parenting guide that covers problems like a new mother's inability to feel unconditional love.

"I wanted to write a book because I felt inadequate and alone," Ms. Figes said. "There are these myths that motherhood is natural and instinctive and that mothers bond with their babies immediately."

The rosy glow surrounding parenthood in contemporary culture dates from the 1980's — the era of movies like "Baby Boom" (1987) and television series like "Thirtysomething" (1987-91), which sanctified child-rearing as the next step for a generation of middle-class Americans who had spent an extended adolescence indulging themselves. Beginning with the Reagan presidency and gaining momentum after the 1992 election, when Bill Clinton made policies like the Family Leave Act a part of the Democratic platform, "family values" became an overwhelmingly bipartisan issue. Today, Baby Gap ads make child-rearing appear as fashionable and easy as a credit card swipe, and the White House is turning its attention in the coming midterm elections to "Mommy issues."

At the same time, there are signs of an anti-romantic reappraisal of motherhood. They exist in pop culture, like the most recent season of "Sex and the City," in which Miranda, the lawyer and single-mother-to-be, learning that her baby is to be a boy, responds with a fake smile and a sarcastic, "Oh, great." After giving birth in the final episode, she said dryly, "It feels like a giraffe just entered the room."

Donna Wick and Wendy Ettinger, former college roommates who each have three children, are the co-producers of a documentary called "Bringing Up Baby," which follows six New York professional women through the late stages of pregnancy, birth and two years of child-rearing, laying bare their frustrations and self-doubt. One of the subjects wonders why "just being a mother isn't more fulfilling" and another feels guilty for craving time alone.

"Why aren't we allowed to talk about hating the park?" said Ms. Wick, 44, who expects their film to be shown on the Oxygen network next year. "You feel alone and think you're crazy. We want women to be able to say it's O.K. to dislike parts of being a mother. It's boring, lonely, not valued and not paid. It's mindless and repetitive and no one ever says to you, `It looks like you're having a tough day, go for a cup of coffee' like they do at the office."

A number of mothers — and potential mothers — who have read some of the anti-romantic parenting tomes expressed relief. "The idea that there could be some ambivalence about motherhood, to hear that echoed is really important," said Michelle Goldberg, 26, a New York writer, who does not have children. "You always hear about people regretting not having children, but you never hear of any woman saying, `I regret having children.' "

"There has to be some measure of regret, and you don't have to be Susan Smith," she said, referring to the South Carolina woman who drowned her two sons in 1994.

Although 1970's feminists like Adrienne Rich and Jane Lazarre wrote about their bipolar swings between loving and resenting their children, the family-values momentum of recent decades has swept aside most of the dialogue that is less than pro-natal.

"We've seen a dampening of the feminist discussion of the complexities of adult women's lives, including parenting, which has been simplified down to a `good mommy/bad mommy' formula," said Suzanna Walters, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and the mother of a 7-year-old daughter. "The late 60's and 70's were a brief, shining moment when all kinds of unspoken things were spoken, including maternal ambivalence." More recently, she added, "there's been a prohibition against voicing ambivalence about mothering."

A number of the mothers who have written recently of their conflicted feelings provoked reactions that made them feel they had touched a high-voltage wire.

Ms. Cusk, a novelist who has won Britain's Whitbread award, attracted sharp criticism for "Life's Work" when it was first published in England last year. In her memoir, she longs for the freedom she had before her child was born. "You become an anonymous person as a mother, but to speak as an author from that experience is extremely difficult," Ms. Cusk said. "When my book came out, people had a fit about it. I wasn't prepared for the level of anger. I had to go on TV to defend myself."

The writer Peggy Orenstein witnessed the self-censorship of mothers when she conducted some 200 interviews for her book "Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids and Life in a Half-Changed World," which appeared in paperback last August. Although some women seemed relieved to confess that they disliked motherhood and wished they might walk away, immediately after making that admission, they qualified it by saying how much they loved their children and would kill for them. "It was almost furtive for them to admit motherhood is not fulfilling," Ms. Orenstein said. "It actually makes me feel deviant and anti-mother to say that. But I'm not. It's like being anti-American. Motherhood silences women. The kryptonite words for women are fat, slut, bad mother and selfish. The words make us lose our powers just like Superman loses his in the face of kryptonite."

One of the paradoxes of the feminist movement is that after opening the workplace to women, offering them independence and professional fulfillment, it sometimes made child-rearing feel like a letdown. Today, a typical 32-year-old prospective mother has had a 10-year career and has made her own decisions since college. Although motherhood has always entailed sacrifice — of time, of the ego, of one's sex life — contemporary mothers are sacrificing more: careers, salaries, status.

"What women are bringing to the table is confidence, education and work experience," said Ann Crittenden, the author of "The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued," which argues that mother's work is economically and socially slighted. "When they become mothers, they discover it's an anachronism. Women are used to being treated equally, and then they have children and they find they're back in the Dark Ages."

Even for those who return to work, a compromise of professional goals often ensues, as suggested by Sylvia Ann Hewlett's recent cause célèbre, "Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children," which reports that in the "top echelons" of corporate careers, nearly half of the women are childless.

In the face of some women's maternal ambivalence, many others will testify to being blindsided by the power of maternal love, and quickly resetting priorities, sometimes never to return to careers. "I had no conflict about leaving to be a full-time parent," said Darcie Sanders, 49, who quit a job in publishing to have a baby and be a stay-at-home mother in Lyons, Colo., 10 years ago. She is the co-author, with Martha M. Bullen, of "Staying Home: From Full-Time Professional to Full-Time Parent," published in 1992. "I didn't feel like I was sacrificing anything," Ms. Bullen added. "There are aspects of drudgery to it, but for me the benefits so overwhelmingly outweigh those aspects, and anyway, there are aspects of drudgery to any job."

Danielle Crittenden, 39, a Washington mother of three and the author of "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman" of 1999, faulted feminists of the 60's and 70's for devaluing motherhood.

"I grew up in the 70's with that whole idea that you're supposed to work, and motherhood wouldn't be satisfying and maybe you condemned it," she said. "We've undervalued the satisfaction motherhood can bring. We haven't planned our lives to accommodate our children, and yet having children has proved to be one of the most profound and satisfying experiences of life. We're afraid to give ourselves over to motherhood — to drop out of the workforce. Motherhood is great and important and something I want to do."

In the end, the subject of maternal ambivalence is not a skirmish in the long-running conflict between working and stay-at-home mothers. Most American women balance careers and families. Sixty-three percent of married women with children under 18 are in the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Working or not, all mothers may be relieved to learn that motherhood may not come automatically to anyone after all. Sarah Bleffer Hrdy, an anthropologist at the University of California at Davis, studied primates, including humans, to understand better the biological relationship between mothers and their offspring. Describing her findings in her 1999 book, "Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants and Natural Selection," she said that mothers are not innately selfless beings but learn to care for their babies over time. In addition, a mother's own well-being may conflict with nurturing her baby.

"It's instructive for women to understand that ambivalence isn't something to feel guilty and ashamed about," Ms. Hrdy said. "Striving for social status, which today comes from work or earning power, and relying on others for help are integral to motherhood in the human species."


Creating a Life’

Contemplating a future that includes both career and children

 April 8 —  Almost half of all professional women are childless at age 40. The more a woman succeeds in her career, the less likely it is that she will have a partner or a baby. For men the opposite is true: the more successful a man is professionally, the more likely it is that he will be married with children. Read an excerpt of Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s, “Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children,” below.


       THERE IS A secret out there, a painful, well-kept secret: At mid-life, between a third and a half of all high-achieving women in America do not have children. A nationwide survey of high-earning career women conducted in January 2001 shows that 33 percent of them are childless at ages 40-55, a figure that rises to 42 percent in corporate America. By and large, these high-achieving women have not chosen to be childless. The vast majority yearn for children. Indeed, many have gone to the ends of the earth to find a baby, expending huge amounts of time, energy, and money. They subject themselves to humiliating medical procedures, shell out tens of thousands of dollars, and derail their careers. Mostly to no avail. After age 40 only 3 to 5 percent of those who use the new assisted reproductive technologies (IVF and the like) actually succeed in having a child — no matter how much they spend, no matter how hard they try.
       Why has the age-old business of having babies become so very difficult for today’s high-achieving women? They are better educated, command higher salaries, and enjoy greater access to careers than any generation of women before them. In addition they have longer life spans and many more reproductive options. Yet all of this new status and power has not translated into better choices on the family front — indeed, when it comes to children, their options seem to be a good deal worse than before. Woman can be playwrights, presidential candidates, and CEOs, but increasingly, they cannot be mothers.

We will begin to learn how and why this has happened by sharing the stories of nine high-achieving women from the breakthrough generation. Wendy Wasserstein, Stella Parsons, and the other women featured in this chapter grew to maturity on the crest of the women’s movement, fought hard to succeed in careers their mothers could only have dreamt of, and realized — in many cases too late — that among the sacrifices they were expected to make were… children. For them, combining career with family has been a seriously difficult if not impossible challenge. Now in their mid- and late forties, with their childbearing years essentially behind them, they invite us into their lives to share their struggles. Their stories offer insight and understanding and provide valuable information. It behooves the next generation to pay attention. By doing so, twenty-something women might be able to avoid the cruel choices that dogged the footsteps of their older sisters.
       I don’t want to suggest that young women are thoughtless or naive. They know it’s rough out there. When they look at the senior women in their organizations they

cannot help but notice that rather few of them have rich family lives, that many seem isolated and lonely. My concern is that many of today’s young women seem convinced that their circumstances — and choices — are vastly improved. They believe that employers these days are more accommodating, that men are more supportive, and that women can rely on getting pregnant deep into their forties. As one 29-year-old woman lawyer told me, “the pioneer women of the ’70s and ’80s paid some kind of special price for their careers. For us, things are different. We plan on having it all.”
       But is such easy confidence warranted?
       I think not.
       As we shall discover in chapter 2, women in their twenties and thirties are dealing with the same cruel trade-offs. Indeed, if anything, these trade-offs are deeper and fiercer than ever. To pretend otherwise, to imagine that somehow these dreadful choices have gone away, merely covers up and obscures the real challenges.

Thus, the voices from the breakthrough generation must be heard; young women have much to learn from their stories. The plotline of these lives is important: what worked, what went wrong. But the emotional arc is crucial as well. It is profoundly important to understand what these women now regret, and what they glory in.
       Let’s begin with Wendy Wasserstein — a woman who after a ten-year struggle finally did get a child in under the wire. In all kinds of ways Wendy was one of the lucky ones. In September 1999 Liz Smith broke the happy news in Newsday.
       One of Broadway’s most gifted playwrights and New Yorker par excellence has had a baby girl at Mt. Sinai Hospital. The baby was most welcome since Wendy had been yearning for motherhood for eons, but the infant was premature so she will be hospitalized for a little while. (The father’s name has not been announced.) Congratulations, dear Wendy. You did it your way.
The Liz Smith piece put a brave face on a difficult reality. Wasserstein had developed an age-related medical condition that triggered an emergency caesarean in the sixth month of her pregnancy, so Lucy Jane was born three months premature and had to stay in the hospital for the first ten weeks of her life. The enormous emotional and practical challenges then facing Wasserstein were compounded by the fact that there was no father to share the wrenching trauma of having a child in neonatal intensive care. But hey, no one promised it would be easy having a child at age 48.
       The New York Times has called Wasserstein “the voice of the breakthrough generation” for the very simple reason that the triumphs and tribulations of this extraordinary cohort of women thread through Wasserstein’s work as well as her life. These women reaped the benefits of the equal rights legislation of the 1960s and 1970s, which dramatically increased the range of opportunities available to them. On the career front the news was nearly all good — barriers were knocked down, and for the first time women could attend Yale University, play soccer, and take out a mortgage. In their private lives, too, they found themselves in uncharted territory, and here the results have been decidedly mixed.
       Wasserstein is a woman thoroughly in touch with the opportunities wrought by modern feminism. In an interview in January 1999 (just before she finally succeeded in getting pregnant), she was emphatic on the subject: “I think the women’s movement saved my life. In fact, I know it saved my life. My mother sent me to Mt. Holyoke because someone told her ‘Smith is to bed, Holyoke is to wed.’ And had I gone to Mt. Holyoke in the 1950s I would surely have gotten wed and ended up as a housewife in Scarsdale. A whole part of me — the creative part — would have died. But suddenly this thing showed up which expanded possibilities. The women’s movement gave me the right to find my own voice — and the belief that my own voice was worth finding. It’s extraordinary — that an idea can do this for someone.

 Yet for Wasserstein, the women’s movement did little to help with that other set of goals that revolve around marriage and children.
       “For me the reproductive thing has been huge. I mean, if I were a man I would decide at this point to marry some attractive, accomplished 34-year-old woman who wanted children and was willing to put her career on hold to raise our kids. Maybe I would have to take on an extra job writing movies to support us. But I could do that. No problem.”
       “Instead of this standard, male scenario, I have just spent seven years trying to have a child on my own. I started off low-tech with two years of Pergonal. When this didn’t work I moved into high-tech reproductive territory. Over five years I did GIFT (gamete intrafallopian tube transfer), seven cycles of IVF, and even tried surrogacy. A woman named Marcy flew in from Alaska to be implanted with embryos created out of my eggs and some donated sperm. But the whole effort didn’t pan out. Somewhere along the line the embryos deteriorated — in packing or storage — and were unusable. Marcy went back to Alaska.”
       “By this point I’ve gone through so many procedures — and been injected with so many drugs — I can’t even keep track of them all. What did I get out of all this? All I’ve proved is that I can’t get pregnant, that I’m really not a girl.
       At first I thought I was up for anything. You show up, the doctor shows you a range of high-tech options, and there’s this powerful thing — the promise of a child. But before you know it you’ve flunked the third year running and you’re beginning to feel used and abused — not to mention broke. You sit in clinics that are wallpapered with pictures of babies, but despite the fact you try as hard as you know how, you don’t get to have one of those babies.”
       “I’m no longer sure that this technology is remotely empowering. You take a woman of my generation, someone who is seriously accomplished, but is in her forties and hasn’t had a child. This new technology becomes a way of telling her that whatever she accomplished, it isn’t enough. And then when she fails to get pregnant — and most of us do fail — it erases her sense of professional competence and erases her confidence as a woman. I know these procedures left me feeling more depressed than at any other time in my life.”
       There is more than a hint of bitterness here. I haven’t talked to Wasserstein since her successful pregnancy, which obviously transformed what she feels about ART, but back in the winter of 1999, she was hugely resentful about what these technologies had done to her life.
       “Why is the nasty, painful stuff around sex and reproduction always dealt with by women?” she railed.
       “There were IUDs when I was in college and now they are injecting us with God knows what. Why is it never the men? Or at least when it involves men it’s Viagra — something potent and pleasurable.”
       “It can be frightening, this yearning for a child — it’s hard to fathom the desperate urgency. And I guess I haven’t given up. I mean, I still have these adoption lawyers calling me, and I’m thinking of having one more stab at IVF. For me, coming to terms with this thing might mean battling on until I actually have a child.”
       Hesitant, defiant, her voice trailed off. Two months later, this remarkable and valiant woman became pregnant with little Lucy.
       So there we have it: a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, one of the most admired women of my generation, helplessly mired in a struggle to have a baby — her enormous accomplishment irrelevant to the task at hand. Indeed, as I discovered in many hours of conversation with Wendy Wasserstein, these very accomplishments hindered her ability to have a family. Over the years, her considerable success has been immensely threatening to men. One long-term boyfriend, for example, threatened to break up their relationship if her play “Uncommon Women” moved to Broadway. The play made it and the boyfriend walked out. When she turned 40, Wasserstein finally gave up on finding Mr. Right and began seriously trying to have a child on her own. It was then that she ran full tilt into another set of problems — problems that centered on her own declining fertility.
       Nowadays, the rule of thumb seems to be that the more successful the woman, the less likely it is she will find a husband or bear a child. For men the reverse is true. The more successful the man, the more likely he is to be married with children. One pair of figures from corporate America says it all: 49 percent of women executives earning $100,000 or more a year are childless, while only 19 percent of 40-year-old male executives in an equivalent earnings bracket do not have children.
       This glaring gap between the ability of high-achieving men and women to have children is underscored by the Wasserstein family itself. The very week Wendy Wasserstein was dealing with preeclampsia and the premature birth of baby Lucy, her sister-in-law was settling in across the hallway at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Claude Wasserstein, 34, wife of Wendy’s brother, Bruce, was at the hospital for the birth of their second child. Claude is Bruce Wasserstein’s second wife, and the bouncing eight-pound baby boy she delivered in September 21, 1999, is Bruce’s fifth child. As with so many men, fame and fortune for Bruce Wasserstein — an exceptionally successful investment banker — has been accompanied by beautiful wives and many children. This happy coincidence of fame and family did not materialize for his equally successful sister, Wendy. Nor does it for most high-achieving women. Of course, in the end Wasserstein did have a baby, and early one Sunday morning in September 2000 she talked about her miraculous journey. She was back at Mt. Sinai Hospital giving the opening address at the annual RESOLVE conference — RESOLVE is a nationwide organization that provides information and support to those dealing with infertility. Attending the conference were over five hundred people — couples and single women — all in the throes of infertility treatment. Wasserstein took this opportunity to explain how she finally got her child.
       “After seven years of failure I thought I had quit trying,” she said. Then, at a restaurant, she ran into one of her first fertility doctors, who told her that new technology would give her a 50/50 chance for a child. Six months later she was pregnant, facing an entirely new set of challenges.
       In her sixth month Wasserstein was diagnosed with preeclampsia. She was hospitalized and the pregnancy stabilized, but sixteen days later her condition suddenly deteriorated and the doctors decided to deliver the baby by caesarean section. On the afternoon of September 12 Lucy Jane was born, 14 inches long and weighing 790 grams, or one pound, 12 ounces.
       Wasserstein described the first time she held her daughter. “Lucy Jane was almost weightless. Her tiny legs dangled like a doll’s. Her diaper was the size of a cigarette pack.”
       During Lucy’s stay in the hospital, Wasserstein experienced some heart-stopping moments. The evening of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, she arrived back at the hospital and found that Lucy had needed a blood transfusion and now had a respirator tube taped over her nose and mouth. Another time she arrived and noticed that Lucy’s tiny knit cap had been cut down the center.
       Wasserstein panicked and ran down the corridor in search of a doctor. It turned out they had taken another brain sonogram; Lucy’s brain ventricles were enlarged and needed to be monitored.
       But pint-size Lucy Jane had an iron constitution. Not only did she take these medical crises in stride, she grew and she flourished. Ten weeks after birth she was allowed to go home.
       Wasserstein finished her Sunday morning talk at Mt. Sinai on an emotional note.
       “Lucy Jane is one year old this week. And she is thriving. That is the first miracle,” she said. “The fact that I was able to make the choice to have this baby — that it was medically possible, that it was culturally possible — that is the second miracle.”
       I looked around the Stern Auditorium. There was hardly a dry eye in the room.
       Later that morning I met up with Stella Parsons, 45. Stella and I are old friends — back in 1991 we had been part of the same Clinton transition team. She was in town for the RESOLVE conference and we had arranged to meet. We sat in a corridor at Mt. Sinai, nursing our coffee, trying to figure out which session of the conference we wanted to go to next. Stella was still reeling from the emotions triggered by hearing Wasserstein talk.
       “It’s not that she was trying to be offensive or anything — she was funny, poignant, and gutsy, just like those wonderful women in her plays — but she might have said more about failure and loss. I mean, she was talking to a roomful of women who either haven’t gotten pregnant, or who have gotten pregnant and lost a kid or two. And there she was,” said Stella, clearly getting agitated, “a fucking walking miracle. Not only did she get pregnant at age 48, but her 1 lb., 12 oz. baby survived, and by all accounts, is flourishing. I don’t know how to wrap my mind around her good fortune. It just doesn’t square with my reality.”

Excerpted from “Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Copyright © 2002 by Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Published by Talk Miramax Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.






Volume 13, Issue 12.   July 1, 2002.

Creating a Lie

Sylvia Ann Hewlett and the myth of the baby bust.

Garance Franke-Ruta

To judge by the public reception of Sylvia Ann Hewlett's much-hyped Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, you might think it was the first time American women had been admonished not to pursue high-powered careers when they could be having babies. Hewlett argues that the more women achieve in the workplace, the less likely they are to marry or to have children. Sound familiar? It was news to Maureen Dowd, who devoted two New York Times columns to the book and proclaimed a "baby bust" among well-educated women. Time magazine produced a worry-inducing cover package centering on Hewlett's book and posing its message in the starkest possible terms: "Babies vs. Career." In The New Republic Online, Michelle Cottle described how a friend of hers "burst into tears halfway through the Time article and had to stop reading." It wasn't long before a full-fledged "Baby Panic" was declared on the cover of New York magazine. "Honestly," Dina Wise, 29, told New York, since Hewlett's book came out, "I've never felt worse."

At the center of this ruckus was not only a centuries-old antifeminist saw but a figure who has spent two decades fixated on proving that feminism hurts women and families. Since the mid-1980s, Hewlett, an economist, has repeatedly attacked feminism for undermining the traditional family and forcing women to make painful choices between childbearing and professional work. Wrote Hewlett in her 1986 A Lesser Life: The Myth of Women's Liberation in America: "The chic liberal women of [the National Organization for Women] have mostly failed to understand that millions of American women like being mothers and want to strengthen, not weaken, the traditional family structure. For them, motherhood is not a trap, divorce is not liberating, and the personal and sexual freedom of modern life is immensely threatening."

Although you wouldn't know it from the credulous reception of Creating a Life, Hewlett's first book was roundly criticized and debunked by feminists, including Betty Freidan, who called it a "deceptive, backlash book." In her 1991 bestseller Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Susan Faludi recounted how Hewlett's work, which approvingly cited the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly, was to become a cornerstone in the antifeminist edifice. "For the next several years," wrote Faludi, "hundreds of journalists, newscasters, and columnists would invoke Hewlett's work whenever they wanted to underscore the tragic consequences of feminism." And the pundits would have no shortage of material to point to: Hewlett's 1991 book, When the Bough Breaks: The Cost of Neglecting Our Children, and her 1998 volume, The War Against Parents: What We Can Do for America's Beleaguered Moms and Dads, co-authored with Cornel West and Eric West, would promote a bleak message nearly identical to the one in her first book. The only difference was that by the time she'd teamed up with West and West, Hewlett had managed to reinvent herself as a pro-family centrist, winning accolades from liberals and conservatives alike.

The message of her work, however, remains wholly consistent, and it still deserves close scrutiny. More than 10 years after Faludi and Friedan's harsh critiques, Hewlett writes in Creating a Life, "Nowadays, the rule of thumb seems to be that the more successful a woman, the less likely it is she will find a husband or bear a child." Whereas her previous books focused on abandoned housewives thrust cruelly into the marketplace by feminist social changes, this one, originally titled Baby Hunger, examines high-achieving career women who find themselves bereft of children in middle age. Once again, Hewlett concludes, women have been hurt by their movement into the workforce. Indeed, with women's accomplishments comes an epidemic of childlessness and epidemic unhappiness. "Almost half of all professional women are childless at age 40," Hewlett writes. "By and large, these high achieving women have not chosen to be childless. The vast majority yearn for children." It's a yearning likely to go unfulfilled, Hewlett predicts in an interview with New York, since after age 35, a woman's fertility simply "drops off a cliff."

Hewlett, now a board member of David Blankenhorn's Institute for American Values and head of the National Parenting Association, says her goal is female empowerment. She wants to help younger women "avoid the cruel choices that dogged the footsteps of their older sisters." Young women should be "highly intentional," "give urgent priority to finding a partner," and try to have children in their late twenties. (Hewlett had her own first child at 31 and her fifth and last at 51.) Young women shouldn't focus so much on building their careers, and they should be prepared to plateau for a while in order to have kids. Otherwise, Creating a Life proposes, they'll face old age alone, with nothing but regrets for company. "My concern," writes Hewlett, "is that many of today's young women seem convinced that their circumstances -- and choices -- are vastly improved ... . But is such easy confidence warranted? I think not."

Hewlett's attack on young women's "obnoxious" "sense of entitlement" does not appear to have had an empowering effect on many readers. New York's Vanessa Grigoriadis summarizes another message that comes through loud and clear: "husband hunting, settling for less, trading in a high-powered career to maximize the returns to our ovaries."

That message is dangerous, and not just because of its antifeminist provenance. If young women take Hewlett's advice seriously, more of them may have kids -- but so, too, will more get divorced, become single moms, or opt not to become high achievers in the first place. Why? Because Hewlett isn't just ideologically motivated -- her predictions are just plain wrong.

The problem with Creating a Life begins with Hewlett's data. She compares high-achieving women with high-achieving men, then blames differences in life patterns on women's high-powered, baby-hostile jobs. But the variables that determine people's life choices are infinitely more complex. How do high-achieving women compare with other working women? How do married women compare with single women? Had Hewlett asked even these simple questions, she would have found a very different set of answers to the question of why high-achieving women have fewer children.

I had Heather Boushey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, rerun Hewlett's analysis on a larger sample of women. Whereas Hewlett relied on a 520-person National Parenting Association study of women between the ages of 28 and 40, we used the March 2000 and 2001 Current Population Survey (CPS) data representing 3.8 million high-achieving women and 29.8 million other women working full-time in this age group. Jointly conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the CPS is routinely used by social scientists to get up-to-the-minute snapshots of American work and family life. Just as Hewlett did, we counted as high achievers women who worked full time and either earned more than $55,000 per year or had a graduate or professional degree, such as an MBA, Ph.D., J.D., or M.D. But we also did something Hewlett didn't do: We compared high-achieving women to their less accomplished sisters, instead of to men, so that we could distinguish the effect of achievement from the simple effect of being a working woman.

The CPS data yield a much more optimistic picture than the one in Hewlett's book. High-achieving women between 28 and 35 are just as likely to be successfully married as other women who work full time, according to the national data. Fully 81 percent of high-achieving women between ages 36 and 40 had married at least once, as had 83 percent of all other working women, though only 62 percent of high-achieving and 60 percent of all other working women remained married, thanks to America's high divorce rate. In other words, there is no achievement-related marriage gap. When Hewlett writes that "the more a woman succeeds in her career, the less likely it is she will ever have a partner," she is dead wrong.

Not only is there no significant achievement-related marriage drought among women 36 to 40, there isn't a baby bust, either. The CPS clearly shows that many high-achieving women who marry and have children delay childbearing until after age 35 and then successfully start families. Because of this late-thirties baby boomlet, married high-achieving women are exactly as likely to have had kids by ages 36 to 40 as are all other married women who work full time. (The figure is 78 percent for both groups.) Hewlett's data obscures these facts by lumping women between 36 and 40 in with the under-35 set and failing to separate women into married and never-married subsets.

The division by marriage is crucial, because it reveals the real disparity that Hewlett's data elides: High-achieving women are far less likely than women in the general population to have children out of wedlock. Only 7 percent of never-married high-achieving women between 28 and 35 had had children, according to the CPS. In contrast, fully 32 percent of other never-married working women had done so. One hardly need look farther afield to explain why only 60 percent of high-achieving women had children at ages 36 to 40, whereas among working women generally the figure is 66 percent. High-achieving women are simply much more reluctant to take on single motherhood.

The so-called baby bust thus has far less to do with female accomplishment or age-related infertility than it does with the persistence of traditional values among economic elites. For high-achieving women, it might as well still be the Eisenhower era, which was the last time the nation as a whole had such a low rate of unmarried births. Because of high-achieving women's greater behavioral conservatism, it is marriage -- not degree of professional success -- that is the single largest determinant of whether they will have children.

So why don't these women just get married? The answer is, they do. Remember, high-achieving women are just as likely to be married at 28 to 35 and at 36 to 40 as are all other working women. And once they marry, they are just as likely to have kids, though they tend to do so somewhat later in life. The difference is that the ones who don't marry rarely have kids.

According to Hewlett, however, delayed childbirth is a serious problem -- not least because women who choose it may falsely believe that technology will help them overcome the natural decline in their fertility as they age. She recounts cautionary tales of regretful women in their late forties trying unsuccessfully to turn back the clock with increasingly invasive rounds of fertility treatments. Young women, warns Hewlett, have been "lulled into a false sense of security" that assisted reproductive technology will "let them off the hook." "Warm, fuzzy media stories about miracle babies," she told People magazine, "mean bigger queues of 42-year-olds with deep pockets lining up to do in vitro fertilization [IVF] seven times."

Yet again, however, the data does not support Hewlett's panic-inducing conclusions. Older women are not flocking to health clinics to have their clocks turned back. In 1999 only 3.8 percent of women who had assisted reproductive technology (ART) cycles, most of which involved IVF, were 43 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many clinics won't even conduct the procedure on women over 44 because the success rate is so low and the odds of miscarriage are so high. Nearly ... 13 percent of ART users in the 1999 study were in their twenties; the majority fell between the ages of 33 and 37 and had medical conditions that impeded their fertility. Moreover, more than twice as many couples sought ART to overcome male-factor infertility as "diminished ovarian reserve."

Fertility, after all, is not an absolute property but a capacity that exists within couples and that varies in an individual depending on his or her partner. Hewlett's book focuses entirely on female fertility, but nearly half of all infertility problems fall on the male side of the equation. In May, for example, scientists definitively demonstrated for the first time that male age has a powerful impact on a couple's fertility. "[Thirty-five]-39-year-old men had significantly reduced ... pregnancy probabilities relative to younger men," reported a team of American and Italian scientists in Human Reproduction. Sperm banks have known for years that genetic defects and health problems accumulate in men as well as women over time. To protect clients from the "potential hazards related to aging," the American Society of Reproductive Medicine recommends that sperm banks avoid donations from anyone over 40. Just to be sure, some banks set the age bar for donors as low as 35.

Just as a man's fertility may appear to increase if he partners with a younger woman, an older woman will see her fertility jump if she selects a younger man. Human Reproduction reported that 35-year-old women whose partners are 40 or older have a significantly decreased chance of conception each month. Having an older partner can shave a 35-year-old woman's chance of conceiving each month, from a best-case shot of 29 percent to a worst-case chance of 18 percent -- the equivalent of tacking years of decline onto her reproductive capacity. That shouldn't be any great surprise, because she is adding years -- her partner's.

This new research suggests a tantalizing proposition for single women listening to a loud biological ticktock: To boost their odds of childbearing, they should date men their own age or a couple of years younger. Instead, most women marry men about two years their senior. Though your average 36-year-old female executive might not find it socially acceptable to date a 29-year-old man (or vice versa), she could still very happily work things out with, say, some nice, stable 34 year old. In the end, this could make a world of difference for her childbearing capacity -- and make her marriage more egalitarian to boot.

Preliminary studies predicting these findings were available when Hewlett was writing her book. But not only does she never consider male fertility, she seems, at times, to attribute all fertility problems to female aging. Such is the case with Hewlett's story of 47-year-old Holly Atkinson, a "Grace Kelly look-alike" and physician working in the e-commerce sector. When Atkinson was about 30, she married a man who was not only 17 years her senior but had also undergone a vasectomy. He got the vasectomy reversed, but soon afterward Atkinson discovered that she too had a fertility problem -- a non-age-related medical condition having to do with a ruptured appendix. The couple was told that IVF was their only shot at having a child, but they did not pursue it. The marriage foundered when Atkinson was in her late-30s; the couple divorced when she was 40. Now remarried, Atkinson is too old to have kids even if she didn't still have her other impediment to childbearing. It's a sad story. But what it demonstrates about the consequences of the "cruel tradeoffs" between career and family is less than clear.

Hewlett's message, she insisted in a late-May letter to The New York Times, is a "a profoundly feminist" one. That claim is nothing but spin. Rather, Hewlett's pessimistic message to women remains as antifeminist as when she explicitly went on the warpath against women's groups: If you want kids, you need to give up your ambitions.

She writes: "Knowing for a fact that only 3 percent of breakthrough generation women got married for the first time after age 35, and only 1 percent had a child after 39, does serve to focus the mind and makes it easier to address the real-world compromises involved in actually getting married and having children." She recommends that "young women wanting both a career and children should think about avoiding professions with rigid career trajectories."

Unfortunately, virtually every career that requires a graduate or professional degree has a rigid career trajectory: law, medicine, and the academy among them. In fact, young women, like young men, often choose such fields precisely because they want a clear career path.

Business is a more flexible arena and MBAs have much less rigid trajectories, but Hewlett sees no hope for women there either. "Childlessness haunts the executive suite," warns Hewlett in Creating a Life. Corporate America is a must-avoid if you want kids, because "42 percent of high-achieving women in corporate America are childless, and this figure rises to 49 percent among ultra-achievers." These figures are "for many ... fraught with pain and loss."

Why women in corporate America should be less likely to have kids is unclear. The figures seem especially odd given that during the 1990s, pro-family workplace policies have been adopted much more rapidly at major corporations such as Morgan Stanley, the IBM Corporation, and CitiGroup, than at, for example, law firms or small newspapers. Furthermore, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), paltry protection though it is for working moms, doesn't even apply to companies with fewer than 50 employees. Yet in Hewlett's study, women aged 41 to 55 who worked for small firms with no FMLA legal protection did much better at having kids -- 79 percent had them -- than their sisters at companies known to have superior workplace protections.

Either FMLA and flex-time don't work or something else is going on here -- a problem, for instance, with how Hewlett defines "corporate." Her "Corporate America" category includes anyone working for a company with more than 5,000 employees, regardless of profession. But working for a massive organization does not make a woman what we normally think of as a corporate executive -- namely, a business professional, sometimes with an MBA, working in the private sector. Hewlett's so-called executives are culled from all her subcategories and can be anything from lawyers at international firms to human-resource managers at pharmaceutical companies to staffers at the Pentagon. "Obviously it kind of runs the gamut of sectors," admits Hewlett in an interview. When Hewlett does divide the women by sector, it turns out that "business professionals" aged 41 to 55 in fact have a much lower childlessness rate: 33 percent.

That figure is probably closer to a real-world one, though it still doesn't tell us what the childlessness rate is among married businesswomen. After Fortune magazine convened its annual Most Powerful Women in Business summit in March, the magazine decided to test out Hewlett's thesis on a group of real corporate executives -- CEOs, presidents, and managing directors from companies such as Southwest Airlines, Lehman Brothers, and Ford. Fortune's conclusion: "What planet is she on?! ... Hewlett's statistics -- 49 percent of women earning over $100,000 are childless after 40 -- don't jibe with our findings." Rather, the magazine found that 71 percent of the summit's 187 executive women had children. One-third of them even had "househusbands." Wrote Patricia Sellers, "Apparently, Fortune's bigwigs have figured out the having-it-all thing better than the women in Hewlett's survey."

None of this is to say that people with demanding careers don't face related personal problems. Interestingly, according to studies conducted by the American Bar Association (ABA), female corporate lawyers suffer the most grinding work hours and disrupted personal lives among professional women. "Compared to female physicians and college professors, women lawyers are less likely to be married, to have children or to remarry after a divorce, and are significantly more likely to be divorced," reported a 1999 ABA Journal article. This, despite the fact that, according to American Lawyer, every major American law firm now provides some kind of "mommy track," and despite the encouraging news that associates who have worked part time at one point or another have been made partner at 56 of the top 100 law firms.

The ABA Journal proposed this explanation: "Overworked, overburdened and squeezed by time, lawyers ... exhibit communication and intimacy breakdowns peculiar to their professional training and work environment." Female and male attorneys alike, the article reported, suffer from an adversarial conversational style, perfectionism, hyper-developed reasoning skills, difficulty with emotions and hyper-intellectualism. These traits can make them shine in the courtroom but tough to deal with outside it.

Even in Hewlett's data you can see a hint of this effect: 46 percent of her male lawyer-doctor group is childless, compared with 42 percent of similar women. It's the only one of her subgroups where the men are more likely to be childless than the women, but she doesn't bother to mention that in her book. And she doesn't use it to argue that men should avoid law and medicine if they want to have families.

If, in the end, Hewlett's book makes women think a bit more clearly about their lives and helps them approach their romantic fates more deliberately, it will have done a service. But if, at the same time, Creating a Life promotes the false notion that women must stop striving for professional excellence in order to have families, it will have done us all a very grave wrong.

When high-achieving women have children, they do so with husbands they can rely on. They work at firms with more workplace protections and better health care than most women, they can afford to take time out of the labor force to spend with their infants, and they have major incentives to return to work and to continue their careers. As mothers, they have the highest labor-force participation rates. They pay taxes, own houses, and contribute to the economy, all the while raising kids who are likely to be as smart and successful as they are. They don't divorce as frequently and they don't have children out of wedlock. Their lives may not be easy or simple, but they have advantages lower-income, less-educated women do not have. What we need in this country is more high-achieving women, not fewer, so that one day women will have the power to reorder all workplaces to be more child-friendly.

A baby panic is not warranted: The evidence shows that once high achievers get married, having children, for the most part, takes care of itself. If young women want something to worry about, they can worry about finding someone they love and enjoy spending time with. I suspect that most of them are already on the case.

Garance Franke-Ruta