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More Young Women Want High-Paying Career, Pew Finds
4/19/2012

Source: USA Today

By Laura Petrecca

"Show me the money" is the new rallying cry among young women.

Two thirds of 18- to 34-year-old women say being successful in a high-paying career is "one of the most important things" or "very important" in their lives, according to a Pew Research Center report out Thursday. Women with that attitude surpass their male counterparts: 59% of young men have the same stance.

In 1997, when the question was last asked, the gender groups were more closely aligned; 56% of young women and 58% of young men expressed the same desire for a well-compensated profession.

STORY: Report shows how broad gender pay disparities are

Pew doesn't have survey data on why women have become more money-focused, but their increased education levels are probably a large factor, says Kim Parker, associate director of Pew's Social & Demographic Trends project.

"In the last few decades, women have made major gains in higher education," and in turn, they feel more confident, she says. "This younger generation of women are more highly skilled and educated, so they can compete in a different way."

The number of women in U.S. colleges has grown. Females are about 57% of undergraduate enrollment, according to the American Council on Education.

Nearly 60% of bachelor's degrees earned in 2009-2010 went to women, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Slightly more than 60% of master's degrees in that period went to women as well.

Female enrollment in medical and law schools is on the upswing, too. Slightly more than 47% of medical school students were female in the 2007-2008 school year, up from 39% in 1995-1996, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Close to 52% of law school students were female in 2007-2008, up from nearly 44% in 1995-1996.

Painter also notes that "it's not as if men have lost their ambition," since their education levels are similar to where they were in 1997. "It's more of a story that women have this sense of opportunity."

Not only are women nabbing more higher-education diplomas, "their expectations for what they can gain from this degree seem to have risen," says Liza Mundy, author of The Richer Sex, a new book that focuses on female breadwinners. "Women have gotten the empowerment message."

But they're also experiencing the reality of the gender wage gap. U.S. women continue to make less than men, earning 81% of what their male counterparts earn, the latest available Labor Department data from 2010 show.

A separate report by the American Association of University Women released Tuesday show women earning 77% of what men earn. That figure was calculated using state and national Census Department data from 2010, the AAUW said in its report released on Equal Pay Day.

Younger women, who tend to earn less than their older female counterparts in the workplace, have a smaller wage gap than older females. Female workers age 16 to 24 as much as men, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that examined 2010 earnings. Those 25 to 34 earned 91% as much.

As women age and potentially move up the career ladder, the gap widens. Earnings of women 35 and older were 75% to 80% of their male counterparts, according to Labor Department data.

"In spite of their educational advantage and increased presence in the workplace, women continue to lag behind men in terms of earning power," says the new Pew report.

"While this could signal a changing workplace, women have tended to fall behind men as their careers progress, so it remains to be seen whether this is an age or generational phenomenon," says the Pew report.

And while young women envision a well-paid future, they don't want to cut back on other non-professional goals, according to the Pew research.

The young women surveyed put a premium on marriage and parenting.

In the new surveys, 37% of 18-to-34 year-old females said having a successful marriage is "one of the most important things" in their lives vs. 28% in 1997. Nearly 60% (59%) say being a good parent is "one of the most important things" vs. 42% in 1997.

"Women are placing a higher priority on work, but they are also putting a higher priority on having a good marriage and being good parents," Parker says. "They aren't going to let these things slide."

Dallas resident Heather Wood, 33, is in that category.

"I want it all," she says. "I want the balance of a family life and I want a career that pays well — and I'm going after it."

She is happily married, enjoys her job in telecommunications sales, and with the help of supportive neighbors and a flexible workplace is able to balance that with the needs of her two daughters, 7 and 3. It's also important for workers to strive for jobs that give them non-financial benefits, such as a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, says Jack Kosakowski, CEO of teen-focused group Junior Achievement USA.

He was dismayed by recent Junior Achievement study findings that 69% of girls age 14 to 18 would consider giving up a dream job for one that paid a higher salary. Slightly more boys, 72%, would consider giving up a dream job for more money.

"My fear is that some of these kids will take jobs solely for the money, but long term, they will become disenchanted pretty quickly," Kosakowski says. "You probably spend more hours working than anything else, and if you're not happy, life can be really long."

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