- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Generation Y women agree with their baby boomer mothers that the ideal age for marriage is in the mid-20s, but disagree on when it would be best to become mothers, a poll shows.

“There were many more similarities between young women and their mothers than we expected,” said Meredith Wagner, a spokeswoman for Lifetime Networks, a provider of cable television for women based in New York City. “We’ll explore why and what accounts for that.”

Lifetime Networks hired two polling companies to conduct the first of a series of polls that will provide research material for a television program on Generation Y women airing later this year.

The “Gen Why?” poll compares the attitudes of women from three generations about careers, marriage and motherhood. Research companies WomenTrend and Lake Research Partners conducted a nationwide random telephone survey from Feb. 27 to March 1 with more than 800 women, including members of Generation Y (ages 18 to 29), Generation X (ages 30 to 44), and the baby boomers (ages 45 to 59).

“In the survey, Generation X were the outliers. Baby boomers and Generation Y had more agreement,” said Kellyanne Conway, president of WomenTrend, a division of the Polling Co., a market research company in Northwest Washington.

Generation Y women, the poll showed, want to have children when they are younger and return to the work force afterward, Ms. Wagner said. The statement contradicts perceptions that Generation Y women are wanting to give up their careers in larger numbers than the generations before them, she said.

The poll shows that 30 percent of Generation Y women want to have children while they are in their mid-20s, while another 50 percent prefer waiting until they are at least 27. Alternatively, the majority of Generation X and baby boomer women — more than 60 percent — prefer having children when they are at least 27, the poll showed.

“Whatever was written about them was controversial,” Ms. Wagner said about Generation Y women.

As for marriage, Generation Y and baby boomer women show more agreement with each other than with Generation X women. The poll indicated that 40 percent of Generation Y women and 45 percent of baby boomer women agree that the ideal age for marriage is 24 to 26, compared with 35 percent of Generation X women.

The difference might be a result of Generation X women’s experience with increasing divorce rates, with 40 percent of them growing up in single-parent households, Mrs. Conway said. Generation X women responded by delaying their marriages and having children later in life, she said. Generation Y women, in turn, saw that many Generation X women had to resort to fertility clinics to have families later in life, she said.

About 70 percent of women from all three generations agreed that women could not have it all by working full time and raising a family without it costing them in their personal lives, responses to one of the poll questions indicated.

Women in the 1970s had the fantasy that they could be superwomen as they entered the work force and gained control over their reproductive systems, said Mardy Ireland, an author and psychologist in private practice in Berkeley, Calif. But the fantasy could cost them in the quality of their relationships and child care and in career advances, she said.

“You have to make choices. You can’t pretend to do everything all the time,” said Ms. Ireland, who holds a doctorate in psychology.

About 60 percent of the women from all three generations agreed that there never has been a better time to be woman, but about 50 percent said it is an even better time to be a man, responses to two of the survey questions showed.

“Although they see a lot of opportunity and they don’t feel held back in their opportunities, they feel like their choices are harder,” Ms. Wagner said.

Women, she said, retain the primary responsibility for family and have to juggle that with work, while men’s traditional role is to work, so they do not have to make choices about forgoing their potential.

“For women, that unfortunately has to be calculated,” Ms. Wagner said. “Our culture, society has to change. … Women have more choices, but our culture and families have to support our choices better for those choices to have meaning.”

The women of today have more rights, including the right to vote, own land and work outside the home, said Lourdes Griffin, administrator of the Outpatient Behavioral Health Service at Washington Hospital Center in Northwest. She holds a doctorate in clinical psychology.

“Men have always had all the rights and freedoms that women have only just acquired, so that’s why it’s the best time to be a women,” Ms. Griffin said, adding that men still are making more money and receiving better promotions than women.

As such, about half of the women polled view discrimination against women as a serious problem. But in the workplace, lack of flexibility was more of an obstacle for women than discrimination, the poll showed.

“The traditional work force will continue to lose many women temporarily to motherhood but will lose even more women permanently to entrepreneurship, because Generation Y sees the traditional work force as unbending to personal circumstance,” Mrs. Conway said.

Women see greater advantages to being a man today than they did three decades ago, a comparison of two polls indicated. Thirty-one percent of women responded affirmatively to a similar question on the advantages to being a man in the 1974 Virginia Slims American Women’s Opinion Poll, compared with 51 percent of the women polled for Lifetime Networks.

The high hopes of feminism in the 1970s might be a factor in the difference, Ms. Ireland said.

“There’s been some change, but not as much as hoped. It’s still a man’s currency, a man’s world, in a certain sense,” she said. “Women can be in it more, but men still call the shots.”

The opinions of the three generations are “surprisingly similar,” said Chris Stout, a clinical psychologist and chief executive officer of Timberline Knolls, a residential treatment center for women in Lemont, Ill.

“One of the take-home messages from this: Maybe we’re not as different as we thought,” Mr. Stout said. “Women, regardless of age, have similar experiences and similar worldviews.”

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