The Millennials, or Generation Y, are currently aged 10-28. The oldest are just reaching the average age at marriage, and though 70% of them plan to marry and 74% want children, there are indications that many women are frustrated with their dating lives. (H/T: Stuart Schneiderman) What’s the problem? Their careers.
In Why Are So Many Professional Millennial Women Unable To Find Dateable Men?, Larissa Faw of Forbes writes:
My Millennial-aged girl friends and I never doubted that we would accomplish all of our life goals. Everything, thus far, has pretty much gone according to our plans. We were accepted into the right college, landed the dream job, and developed a network of amazing friends. Our apartments are beautifully decorated and we have closets full of stylish clothing. Romance hasn’t been entirely sidelined, but we don’t waste our time trying to cultivate a relationship unless someone is really amazing.
But now, a growing number of Millennial women are beginning to fret over the unanticipated consequences of prioritizing our careers before love. And I only need to look at my group of friends to see this reality. Again and again, year after year, my successful, gorgeous, and amazing friends remain kiss-less on New Year’s Eve. And on Valentine’s Day. And on the 4th of July. The only dateable men we encounter are either attached, gay, or otherwise involved in “it’s complicated” situations. We are coming to the realization that we were unwittingly playing a game of musical chairs — while everyone was pairing up, those focused on our careers are left standing alone.
I’ve been using the musical chairs metaphor since I began blogging – it’s been clear for two decades that women were outperforming men in education, and the current college ratio of 57% female, 43% male makes it undeniable that we have a serious problem with marriage prospects.
One third of today’s female college graduates will not marry a college educated male.
There are two reasons why Millennial women at the upper end of the age range are single and lonely:
1. They want high achieving men, and there aren’t enough of them to go around.
2. They are ambitious in their careers but lazy about their love lives.
For one, it’s not as if we are holding out for Jake Gyllenhaal, but we do have certain non-negotiable expectations for potential mates that include college degrees and white-collar jobs. Life has always gone according to our plans, so why wouldn’t we land a man with these (reasonable) requirements?
This unwillingness to settle for less than we think we deserve is joined by a lax attitude towards searching for potential mates. We’re busy dominating the world. We don’t have time to hang out at bars. While some of us explore online dating or take a more proactive approach, the majority of Millennial women have long assumed we would meet Prince Charming via friends, or through their own social circles.
There’s nothing women can do about the sex ratio in college, but they can certainly be strategic in their search for a mate. Indeed, it is not a random game of musical chairs. By making the right choices, you can get a tipoff on when the music is about to stop.
How Millennial Women Really Feel About Their Careers
Faw observes that many young women are burning out at work by age 30:
Today, 53% of corporate entry-level jobs are held by women, a percentage that drops to 37% for mid-management roles and 26% for vice presidents and senior managers, according to McKinsey research.
She notes that “Many also didn’t think of their lives beyond landing the initial first job…Even those who did plot out their lives past the initial first career have unrealistic expectations about full-time employment. It’s not as if these women expected their jobs to be parties and good times, but many underestimated the actual day-to-day drudgery.”
While earlier generations may have opted out of the workforce through marriage or motherhood, these paths aren’t viable for these self-sufficient women, who either are still single or unwilling to be fully supported by men.
Meghan Casserley, in Is ‘Opting Out’ The New American Dream For Working Women? confirms that most working women (not just Millennials) want to step off the career track:
At a moment in history when the American conversation seems to be obsessed with bringing attention to women in the workplace (check out “The End of Men,” or Google “gender paygap” for a primer), it seems a remarkable chasm between what we’d like to see (more women in the corporate ranks) and what we’d like for ourselves (getting out of Dodge). But it’s true: according to our survey, 84% of working women told ForbesWoman and TheBump that staying home to raise children is a financial luxury they aspire to.
“I think what we’re seeing here is a backlash over the pressure we’ve seen for women to perform, perform, perform both at work and at home,” says Leslie Morgan-Steiner, the author of Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families. “Over the past three to five years we’ve seen highly educated women—who we’d imagine would be the most ambitious—who are going through med school, getting PhDs with the end-goal in mind of being at home with their kids by age 30.”
Arguably the most famous working mom in corporate America today, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wants women to stop dropping out. In her widely viewed TED Talk, Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders, Sandberg tells women the most important thing is to “Keep your foot on the gas pedal!” and not take any more time off for kids than is absolutely necessary. She holds herself up as a model of a loving and involved mother who also happens to have a big job. However, close viewing of the Talk reveals the following inconsistency:
“My daughter, who’s three…” (early in the talk)
“I have a 5 year old son and a two year old daughter.” (end of the talk)
This is a woman who does not know the age of her own child.
Kay Hymowitz, in The Plight of the Alpha Female acknowledges that Sandberg’s exhortations are futile.
Feminists have come up with some theories to explain the dearth of women in the C-suite: those in the running would necessarily be aggressive, a trait that men in power don’t like to see in women; executives and boards don’t believe that women are capable of the highest-octane work; women lack men’s sense of entitlement in the pursuit of fame and fortune. But “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” a recent, widely discussed Atlantic cover story, should help redirect the conversation to the obvious: it’s the kids.
…Women are less inclined than men to think that power and status are worth the sacrifice of a close relationship with their children…Nothing in the array of work/family policy prescriptions—family leave, child care, antidiscrimination lawsuits, flextime, and getting men to cut their work hours—will lead women to infiltrate the occupational 1 percent. They simply don’t want to.
Hymowitz argues that this strong female preference to be at home with children is what makes the “end of men” argument silly. Still, I don’t think society is in good shape when we expect men to play second string, getting in the game only after women have opted out by choice. And what does that mean for men who want to marry? How can they advance in their careers when women who plan to step off in less than ten years are front and center until then, scooping up promotions?
Your Best Strategy For Finding a Mate
Don’t waste time halfwaying it or “just having fun” if you want to marry and have a family.
Date for the long-term.
If you don’t meet your future spouse in college (few people do), immediately upon graduating think of every potential relationship as serious and lasting. No dating Mr. Right Now.
Filter, filter, filter.
Dads not cads. Filter in for character, and drop the checklist of superficial stuff.
Put the word out.
Don’t pretend to be fabulously single unless you want to stay that way. Let your friends, family and coworkers know you’re in it to win it. Accept as many invitations, blind dates, and introductions as you possibly can. Dial down the bar scene as your go-to weekend plan. Your chances of meeting your husband in a bar are not nil, but they’re slim.
Your Best Strategy For Staying Home With Your Kids
Penelope Trunk wrote a post with some excellent advice: How to plan a career in your 20s to stay home with kids in your 30s.
Understand that your job performance is ephemeral.
For those of you who will fall into the 84% [who want to stay home], understand that the life you have as a high performer at work is going to end when you have kids. Priorities will change, and it will not matter that you are a high performer because you will not choose to sustain that when you have kids. Work is a place where you get external rewards for being smart and productive and a good team member. You do not get that at home.
Accept that you will fall behind.
Women are performing at a higher level at work than men are right now. So, statistically speaking, when you decide to stay home with kids, the people you were better than will start moving ahead of you. It will kill you. Prepare for this. It works best to think of your career as a time in your life. You were a high performer when you did it, but now it’s over.
Live below your means.
You know at age 23 if it’s likely that you’ll want to stay home with kids. Which means the minute you get married you should adjust your spending for one income. This will always keep the door open for you to stay home with kids.
Pick your spouse carefully.
If you want to stay home with kids, don’t marry a guy who can’t earn a living. If you want to stay home with kids, make it clear that even though you earn more than the guy, the guy will be the breadwinner. If you want to stay home with kids then you put all your financial hopes in the guy’s career. Whatever his earning ability is, then that is your earning ability, because you are a team, and he is the breadwinner.
Don’t be the woman who turns 30 and says, “Whaaaaa?” Plan ahead. Be smart. When the music stops, you want to get a chair, and with any luck it won’t be a barstool.