GOOD

Why Are Young Women More Ambitious? They Have to Be

Perhaps guys aren't focused on their futures because they know it usually works out better for them.


The headline of a new study by the Pew Research Center claims to have discovered "A Gender Reversal On Career Aspirations." But upon closer inspection, the study appears to imply that young women are more ambitious than men their age across the board. Sixty-six percent of 18 to 34-year-old women rate their career high on their list of life priorities, compared with 59 percent of young men. This figure hasn't really "reversed," but it has shifted markedly in the past 15 years—in 1997, only 56 percent of young women felt the same way, compared to 58 percent of men.

Today's young women aren't planning to make any sacrifices on the home front, either—they're prioritizing their personal lives, too. The amount of young women who say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives has risen nine percentage points since 1997, from 28 to 37 percent. For young men, that stat is trending in the opposite direction—from 35 percent in 1997 to 29 percent now. More young women than men care about being a good parent—59 percent, compared to 47 percent of their male counterparts. It looks like young women are more likely to be thinking consciously about their priorities, period. Do dudes just not give thought to their futures at all?


Perhaps guys aren't mulling their life priorities because they trust that marriage, parenthood and career usually work out better for them in the longrun. They're right about that. When women begin their careers, they earn virtually the same as their male peers (95 cents to every dude dollar), but as they near their early thirties, the pay gap widens—women have kids, take maternity leave, and stall their careers for a few years, or else they get passed over for promotions and yearly raises. By the time a women nears retirement age, she earns around 75 cents for every dollar a man her age earns.

Although marriage is lower on young men's list of priorities, they'll fare better when they eventually tie the knot. Numerous studies show that married men are happier, live longer, make more money, and experience less stress, while married women are rewarded with more housework, less money, worse sex and a few extra pounds. And while women are consumed with the problems of "work-life balance"—trying to maintain a successful career while raising a family—men seldom feel as much pressure or face as much doubt about their ability to "do it all." Women still end up performing the majority of the parenting, regardless of their jobs, and despite public platitudes revering the work of motherhood, the lack of universal childcare and inadequate (or nonexistent) parental-leave policies set women up to fail.

No amount of girl power—or denial—can obscure these deep-set gender dynamics. Women are acutely aware of the need to be especially ambitious in order to succeed—the same extra ambition any marginalized group needs to climb the career ladder and crack glass ceilings. It's the reason more women are getting college degrees, and the reason why many women try more intently to find a mate at a younger age (although that's changing). The sexual economy, as well as the professional one, are simply skewed in men's favor, especially as the years go on. Why wouldn't they be more relaxed about their life choices?

Photo by (cc) Flickr user gcoldironjr2003.

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This article was produced in partnership with the United Nations to launch the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of cooperation in building the future we want.

When half of the world's population doesn't share the same opportunity or rights as the other half, the whole world suffers. Like a bird whose wings require equal strength to fly, humanity will never soar to its full potential until we achieve gender equality.

That's why the United Nations made one of its Sustainable Development Goals to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls." That goal includes providing women and girls equal access to education and health care, as well as addressing gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

While there is still much work to be done, history shows us that we are capable of making big leaps forward on this issue. Check out some of the milestones humanity has already reached on the path to true equality.

Historic Leaps Toward Gender Equality

1848 The Seneca Falls Convention in New York, organized by Elizabeth Lady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, is the first U.S. women's convention to discuss the oppression of women in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life.

1893 New Zealand becomes the first self-governing nation to grant national voting rights to women.

1903 Marie Curie becomes the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the only woman to win multiple Nobel Prizes, for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.

1920 The 19th Amendment is passed in the U.S. giving women the right to vote in all 50 U.S. states.

1973 The U.S. Open becomes the first major sports tournament of its kind to offer equal pay to women, after tennis star Billie Jean King threatened to boycott.

1975 The first World Conference on Women is held in Mexico, where a 10-year World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women is formed. The first International Women's Day is commemorated by the UN in the same year.

1979 The UN General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the "Women's Bill of Rights." It is the most comprehensive international document protecting the rights of women, and the second most ratified UN human rights treaty after the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland becomes the first woman to be elected head of state in a national election.

1993 The UN General Assembly adopts the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the first international instrument to explicitly define forms of violence against women and lay out a framework for global action.

2010 The UN General Assembly creates the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to speed progress on meeting the needs of women and girls around the world.

2018 The UN and European Union join forces on the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

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As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is redoubling its commitment to reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. But it will take action and effort from everyone to ensure that women and girls are free from discrimination and violence. Learn more about what is being done to address gender equality and see how you can get involved here.

And join the global conversation about the role of international cooperation in building the future by taking the UN75 survey here.

Let's make sure we all have a say in the future we want to see.

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