Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Comfortable With What We Know

For this piece, I interviewed twelve BYU students, six male and six female, about their future plans and goals. Brigham Young University is heavily influenced by LDS culture, but I tried to get as varied of a sample as possible in both background and field of study. None of the participants were married, but about half were dating someone exclusively at the time of the interview. The interviews followed a guide that consisted of three sections: expectations individual had for their chosen career paths, what factors influence their current decisions, and anticipated family and work balance. While answers to specific questions varied from individual to individual, there were a number of overall trends that both reinforced and contradicted some of the literature we have read.

 An interesting dichotomy in answers arose when asked about expectations for future careers. Every one of the men expected to work in a job that would provide financial security to support a family. Many of the males talked about the different stages they anticipated in their careers and seemed to have a pretty good idea of the financial compensation that would come at those times. All of them planned on working long enough to secure full retirement benefits and many talked about their plans to “give back” or become more involved in their community after they retired. The women, on the other hand, were much more likely to express interest in being involved in their community throughout their lives, and over half talked about how they planned on being involved in their children’s schools. All of the females talked about how they thought it was important to be able to support their families financially if necessary, but many saw their work future as either part-time or in phases. This ties in interestingly to The Atlantic article --many women agreed that they do not think it is realistic to expect women to balance a full-time career and successful family life. Almost all of them planned on staying home with their future children for at least some of their lives.  Overall, both men and women seemed to have a pretty clear idea of what type of work they would be interested in doing. However, many of the women expressed actually doing this work in a part-time setting or before and after they took some time off to raise their children. Men expressed less flexibility in their plans and seemed more set on their anticipated path. This reminds me of an op-ed I recently read that calls for more attention to the issue of the gap between talking about shared goals and careers and actually implementing that in practice (warning: there is some language). Respondents did not seemed overly concerned with this issue, which raises the question of whether it is being talked about enough to ensure both men and women have the opportunity to express their career goals.

 Both males and females are influenced in their current decisions by personal interest, familial and societal pressures, and future goals. While most of the participants expressed a desire to study something that they found interesting, many of the women said they were more likely to choose something they were passionate about even if they knew it was not guaranteed to lead to a lucrative job. While they all acknowledged the importance of being able to provide for themselves, only one was planning on being the primary breadwinner in her future family. These women were capable and some were very ambitious, but overall most of their current decisions were based more on doing something they were interested in and that would prepare them to be a better mother than something that would set them up to make a lot of money. Every single male expressed that his field of study was influenced by his desire to be able to provide for his future family. Two male respondents were adamant that you could study almost anything and still make connections and develop the necessary skills needed to be successful, but they were both majoring in fields that would likely set them up for success. Males were more like to see undergraduate decisions as necessary steps to make sure they were competitive job applicants, even if they did not feel passionate about what they were studying. Overall, men felt more pressure to choose something more traditionally “masculine”, which ties in to Kaufman’s ideas about society’s masculine expectations for men (Kaufman 1991). Women felt more freedom in what they chose to study. In fact, the women who were in fields traditionally dominated by men actually felt supported in their decisions and felt like they had benefitted from being the minority. The women said that while they did not necessarily enjoy being the “token woman” in their male dominated classes, they did not feel unable or unlikely to speak up. This contradicts predicted results that research on deliberation would have suggested (Resenthal et al 2003, Mendelberg, Karpowitz, Oliphant 2014). It was encouraging to hear that both sexes were just as likely to complete internships and express the importance of networking and knowing how to market oneself. The women who were graduating soon were looking seriously into jobs that would allow them to be self-reliant and gain experience, either for career advancement or graduate school.

When respondents were asked about what they expected for their future family and work balance almost all expressed that many things would greatly depend on the type of person they marry. Most of the men expressed their desire to balance a successful career and family life while women expressed a career as a second priority to a happy family life. About half of each gender also talked about their desire to be able to fulfill church responsibilities. As already expressed, almost all of the women talked about staying home with their children, at least while the children were young. While over half conveyed the desire to work full-time at some point in their lives, many talked about how this would have to be balanced with what their partner wanted—none of the men mentioned the possibility of their wife working full-time. A few thought the ideas of co-parenting were interesting, but none brought up the idea on their own. Both males and females shared positive examples from their own lives of people who had successfully had the kind of life they envisioned for themselves. This ties in with the idea that we are often comfortable with things we have already seen and set our expectations according to the examples we have grown up seeing. This draws some parallels to the articles about representation, and makes me wonder if more of these women had examples of mothers who work full-time if that is what they would strive for. Mansbridge suggests that descriptive representation, being represented by people who share the same characteristics (ie race and gender), is important for true representation and perhaps this could be applied to career expectations for women as well (Mansbridge 2007).

Overall, both men and women respondents saw their career paths as a way to help them live happy and productive lives. How they predicted themselves going about this varied; men were more likely to express finding fulfillment out of knowing they were providing for their family while many women thought fulfillment would come primarily from raising children. It is important to look at this limited qualitative data critically and acknowledge the possible cultural factors that could influence these decisions. Perhaps the most encouraging result I found was the openness all expressed in supporting those who might choose a different path than their own. 

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