Career and Family: College Women Look to the Past

53 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2000 Last revised: 5 Sep 2022

See all articles by Claudia Goldin

Claudia Goldin

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: July 1995


Recent college graduate women express frustration regarding the obstacles they will face in combining career and family. Tracing the demographic and labor force experiences of four cohorts of college women across the past century allows us to observe the choices each made and how the constraints facing college women loosened over time. No cohort of college graduate women in the past had a high success rate in combining family and career. Cohort I (graduating c. 1910) had a 50% rate of childlessness. Whereas cohort III (graduating c. 1955) had a high rate of childbearing, it had initially low labor force participation. Cohort IV (graduating c. 1972) provides the most immediate guide for today's college women and is close to the end of its fertility history. It is also a cohort that can be studied using the N.L.S. Young Women. In 1991, when the group was 37 to 47 years old, 28% of the sample's college graduate (white) women had yet to have a first birth. The estimates for career vary from 24% to 33% for all college graduate women in the sample. Thus only 13% to 17% of the group achieved 'family and career' by the time it was about 40 years old. Among those who attained career, 50% were childless. Cohort IV contains a small group of women who have combined family with career, but for most the goal remains elusive.

Suggested Citation

Goldin, Claudia, Career and Family: College Women Look to the Past (July 1995). NBER Working Paper No. w5188, Available at SSRN:

Claudia Goldin (Contact Author)

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