TIME career

Working Women Are Planning More, Which is Why Some Are Freezing Their Eggs

If egg-freezing is Plan B, women need a Plan C

Women seem to have gotten the message that if we want to have both professional success and a family, we better plan it out. That’s the point of a New York Times piece this week that concluded that millennial women are leaning away from “leaning in” and instead scheduling family phases into their career plans.

MORE: The Truth About Freezing Your Eggs

Here’s how the Times’s Claire Cain Miller puts it:

You might call them the planning generation: Their approach is less all or nothing — climb the career ladder or stay home with children — and more give and take …“They’re anticipating that in some way they’re going to have to dial down or integrate their career and their life,” said Caroline Ghosn, chief executive of Levo, an online professional network focused on millennial women. “This reality is something that people are a lot more transparent and open about.”

When you’ve grown up with as many conflicting messages about work and family as millennials have, that kind of attitude makes sense. We’ve been thoroughly disabused of the notion that having both a thriving career and a family at the same time is easy–or even possible– and so the natural reaction is to stagger them; first one, then the other. In most cases, women choose to focus on their career first and family later. But that’s a tricky gamble, because fertility declines with age.

That’s where egg-freezing comes in. For a generation of women who tend to be more practical about plotting their career and family trajectories, egg-freezing is marketed as the best way to do just that. With a frozen egg, they’re told, they could easily start a family throughout their 40’s. Fertility marketers call it an “insurance policy” that can help women smash the biological clock.

That’s an idea with obvious appeal to young women. “It gets into all the mixed messages that women are constantly told. Like “you can have it all, you can’t have it all.” With dating: first it’s like ‘don’t settle,’ then it’s like ‘marry him already,’” says Eileen, a 28-year old who works in education, is considering freezing her eggs when she can afford it. “Everyone’s like ‘do this, do that’ and it feels like you’re never getting the truth about what you can do and what you can have.” (Eileen asked that her full name not be used, because of the personal nature of this fertility decision.)

Jen Statsky, a 29-year old TV writer, says she’d consider egg-freezing just to give herself more flexibility. “I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky with my career and I’m happy with where I am at 29, but there’s so much I want to do. I enjoy my life the way it is right now,” she says. “And theoretically I can’t see being ready for a child before the age of 35 or 36. I would push it to 50 if I could.”

Eileen feels like anticipating a family could keep her from making a radical career switch at this stage of her life. “If I were to start a new career in this point in my life, of course as a female you’re always thinking: how would that work out, how would I get years under my belt without leaving the workforce?’”

Dilemmas like these, combined with recent technological advances, have led to a surge in procedures. Since 2009, egg freezing’s popularity has increased more than tenfold, and fertility marketers are predicting that by 2018, more than 70,000 women will be freezing their eggs. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine lifted the “experimental” label from the procedure in 2012, after the quick-freeze vitrification method was developed (scientists discovered that quick-freezing eggs worked much better than slow-freezing them.)

If you want to know more about egg-freezing, check out our recent magazine feature on the topic here.

There’s just one problem with using egg-freezing to help plan the perfect career trajectory: it doesn’t necessarily work that well. Although egg-freezing is marketed to anxious women as an “insurance policy,” there are not yet any major studies about success rates. And initial numbers obtained exclusively by TIME suggest that in 2012 and 2013, only 24% of egg thaws resulted in a live birth.

So if women are using egg-freezing to plan their perfect careers, they need a plan B.



TIME Working Women

Study: Women Do Not Apply To ‘Male-Sounding’ Jobs

Job postings seeking “assertive,” “independent,” “aggressive” candidates don't attract women, according to a new study. Instead, female candidates are drawn to ads looking for "dedicated" or "conscientious" people

Women are less likely to apply for a job that “sounds” like it’s meant for a man, according to a new study.

For example, if a job posting uses words like “determined” and “assertive,” women are less likely to apply since the descriptors are associated with male stereotypes.

Researchers from the Technische Universität München (TUM) showed 260 participants employment ads for management positions. If the ads used words commonly associated with men, like “assertive”, “independent”, “aggressive” and “analytical,” the women said they didn’t find the job appealing, and were less likely to apply. Conversely, if the job used words like “dedicated”, “responsible”, “conscientious” and “sociable” they were much more likely to think the job was a good fit.

Wording on the advertisements made no difference to men.

The researchers say that it may be true that companies with few women in management roles suffer from a lack of applicants, as many claim. But language used in job advertisements may be turning women off, even if they are qualified. “In most cases, it doesn’t make sense to simply leave out all of the male-sounding phrases,” study author Claudia Peus said in a statement. “But without a profile featuring at least balanced wording, organizations are robbing themselves of the chance of attracting good female applicants. And that’s because the stereotypes endure almost unchanged in spite of all of the societal transformation we have experienced.”

Ideally, wording shouldn’t impact whether a woman applies for a job, but the researchers showed that stereotypes persist, and play out in the application process. The researchers surveyed about 600 male and female Americans, and found that the majority considered men and women to be equally competent. But, men were rated higher for leadership skills–and even more disturbing–women rated themselves and other women lower overall in leadership abilities.

The research, which was funded by Germany’s Ministry of Education and Research and by the European Social Fund of the European Union, is currently being presented in Munich.

TIME psychology

Leaning Out: Men Like to Be the Boss More Than Women Do, Study Says

Group of office workers in a boardroom presentation
Chris Ryan—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

A new study shows why women need to mentor younger women

A new study suggests that men prefer being in charge, whereas women are better at working with their peers. While the study only confirms what many office dwellers already know, the findings may bolster Sheryl Sandberg’s quest to get women to lean in more and to be better mentors.

To see how much men cooperated with other men, researchers at Harvard’s Department of Evolutionary Biology looked at co-authored publications to see how likely it was that two professors of the same rank would work together. After examining studies co-authored by professors at 50 North American universities, the researchers calculated the likelihood of co-authorship in relation to the number of professors in that school’s department.

They found that male professors were more likely than female professors to co-author publication with a same-gendered assistant professor — i.e., someone below their own rank. Female professors were more likely to work with equally ranked colleagues.

The results itself aren’t that groundbreaking. Studies have shown that women enjoy working in groups with peers and that men enjoy being the boss. It’s true across primate species, and humans are no exception.

Though women’s ability to work together to accomplish a goal may benefit them in the workplace, there’s also a downside. The researchers write, “Female superiors may also be less willing than male superiors to invest in lower-ranked same-sex individuals.” This finding is consistent with a 2011 LinkedIn study that found that only one in five women have had a professional mentor, and only half of those women were mentored by a woman.

The study didn’t determine whether the professor-assistant professor relationship favored by the male professors was one of mentorship, but it seems yet again that we have evidence that women need to make a concerted effort to help one another out. Or, as Madeleine Albright said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”


Does Female Breadwinner Equal ‘Sugar Mamma’?

For years now, the number of women who are the primary or sole earners in their household has been on the rise. About a third of married women, according to Census data, are the breadwinners.

But is this trend — which has been accelerated by the recession — something to celebrate?

Absolutely, says financial expert and author Manisha Thakor, who wrote about it this week in a blog post entitled “The Rise of the Sugar Mamma“:

I define the modern “Sugar Mamma” as a woman who wants to be in the financial driver’s seat of her life. She views money as a tool that gives her a voice and increases her life choices. She likes earning an income because it gives her control and the freedom to create the life that makes her heart sing.

With much respect to Thakor, whose work I admire, I must protest.

I get that Thakor wants to turn the tables on the old notion of women being dependent on a “sugar daddy” by showing that many higher-earning women are economically able to support themselves and their spouses and families.

I also agree that we could use a better moniker than “female breadwinner,” which is clunky, or “alpha wife,” which implies a certain level of competition and hostility within a marriage that may not be there.

The trouble with “sugar mamma” is that its “sugar daddy” roots are tainted by an arrangement that was (and is) paternalistic at best, degrading at worst, and ultimately about sex for money.

Putting history aside, sugar mamma also sounds a little too cotton-candy for my taste — and my experience as being the long-time breadwinner for my family. That responsibility is damned uncomfortable, and of the scores of couples I’ve interviewed on this topic over the last few years, I don’t know a single one who would disagree.

That said, by taking a stab at a new, more celebratory term, Thakor does something no one else has: She paints the rise of breadwinner women in brighter, more modern colors. In an email, Thakor told me that she sees some women “reclaiming the term ‘sugar daddy’ in the feminine” to mean a woman who is in control of her career, her life, and her money — “not waiting for someone else to give her the power or resources to make those decisions.”

Thakor also notes that people’s eyes glaze over when you refer to these achievers as “empowered women” (sad, but true). “By using a phrase as shocking to the senses as ‘Sugar Mamma,’” she writes, “you force people to … look at the situation with new eyes, to envision the reverse of a Sugar Daddy, to ask how we can reach harmonious equality where both genders fully prosper.”

Now I need to hear from other female breadwinners (and the men who love them): What do you think of the name “sugar mamma”? Got a better name for the phenomenon?

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Six-Figure Women on the Rise…So?

The number of working women earning six-figure salaries is climbing at an impressive rate. But once you get out of that rarefied atmosphere, women, whether in the workforce or retired from it, still have a lot of catching up to do.

Over the past two years, the population of women earning $100,000 or more jumped by 14%, The Washington Post reported this morning, citing new Census data. In comparison, only 4% of men joined the six-figure club over the same time.

You’d like to leave such good news for women well-enough alone. The research is another encouraging sign that women’s economic progress continues. (Bear in mind, however, that one out of seven male full-time workers earns six figures, compared to one out of 18 female workers, and that men earning six figures still outnumber women by more than three to one.)

But the high-end salary news comes on the heels of distressing reports about the more typical experience of women in and out of the workforce. A survey last month from the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that the average income of women age 65 and older was 43% lower than their that of their male counterparts (about $21,500, compared to $37,500 for men). One major reason: Income attributable directly to employment — earnings and pensions — amounted to $19,250 for men, but only $7,850 for women). Social Security made up about half of women’s incomes, compared to about one-third of men’s.

And as of 2009, reports the Department of Labor, the median income of full-time working women was 20% lower than men’s — about $34,000, compared to $42,600.

While these numbers reflect societal conditions beyond any one person’s ability to control, there is a cautionary tale here for individuals.

One would hope that as women earn more that they would also likely save more — and become more savvy, proactive stewards of their money.

One would hope that, as today’s working women retire and enter their sunset years, surveys will report that Social Security is a much smaller part of their income stream — that women will reap the fruit of decades of earning, saving and investing.

At the moment, that’s not a sure bet. Although women are just as likely to have retirement accounts as men are, their contributions and account balances are still much lower than men’s.

Sometimes the swiftest way to motivate behavioral change is to run some numbers and peek at down the road that lies ahead, and realize that even a small change now could dramatically alter your future. If you saved just another one percent of your salary each year, you might ask yourself, how would that change your income stream in retirement? To find the answer, try this useful calculator.

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