Having It All, Having Too Much, Having Too Little: How Women Manage Trade-Offs Through Adulthood
63 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2013 Last revised: 14 Mar 2014
Date Written: January 14, 2013
In June, 2012, an Atlantic cover story, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” became the most viewed article in the history of the magazine’s website. It provoked a torrent of debate about the myth of the superwoman, the dearth of models for combining career and personal life, and the reasons why so few women get to the top. Well into the second generation of full time working women, “work-life” conflicts remain raw and problematic. This theory-generating study used in-depth interviews to trace the life histories of 40 women, born between 1945 and 1955, from adolescence through middle age. Participants come from 4 occupations and a range of socio-economic and ethnic/racial backgrounds. Close analysis of their stories belies the super-women myth, and suggests three distinct answers to the question “Can I have it all?” — answers which imply three basic strategies for managing trade-offs. Strategies differ in the advantages and risks they pose, the factors that contribute to their working well or badly, and in women’s reasons for choosing them. There is no one “best way”: a strategy’s success depends primarily on how well it matches a woman’s own needs and the resources available to her. Further, a woman’s basic strategy is not irrevocable. Many participants successfully shifted from one strategy to another, in ways that were characteristic to each starting point. Enriched by the perspective and hindsight of mid-life, these stories illuminate authentic answers to the question of whether a woman can have it all, and suggest how they play out over the long run.
Keywords: women, adult development, work-life balance, careers, trade-offs
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