Dads, not kids, hold mums’ careers back

working mum

It’s arguably the greatest modern dilemma for mums – can you keep climbing the career ladder while raising a family? Well, a new study reveals there is someone women holding back from pursuing their work dreams – but it’s not the kids.

Instead, it’s women’s partners stopping from continuing their careers, finds the US study. Its authors say high-achieving women are not meeting the career goals they set in their early 20s because they allow their partners’ careers to take on more importance.

Researchers interviewed 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates over several decades, and found men were much more likely to end up in senior management positions, with more responsibility and more direct reports.

But they found it wasn’t because women had “opted out” of the workforce. Among Gen X and Baby Boomers, only 11 per cent had left careers to stay at home full-time. Most Gen X women – aged 32 to 48 – were working full time. But they were also making more unexpected sacrifices than their male former classmates.

On graduation, more than half of men said they expected their careers to take precedence over their partner’s. But most women said they expected to have egalitarian relationships, with both partners’ careers treated equally seriously. Only 20 per cent thought their careers would take a back seat, reports the National Post.

But in actual fact, later in life about 40 per cent of women reported their spouse’s career had taken priority over theirs. And of the men, more than 70 per cent now felt their career was more important than their female partner’s.

Even among the younger millennial graduates, more than half of the men assumed their careers would take precedence over their partner’s.

And when it comes to childcare, the division is even more obvious. Some 86 per cent of men, 65 per cent of Gen X women and 72 per cent of Baby Boomer women said the female partner had primary responsibility for child care – even when the woman also worked. Among millennials, two-thirds of men assumed their partner would do most of the child-rearing.

The study, by Harvard Business School researchers Robin Ely and Colleen Ammerman and Hunter College sociologist Pamela Stone, says another barrier for women is getting “mummy-tracked” – often not considered management material any more.

“They may have been stigmatised for taking advantage of flex options or reduced schedules, passed over for high-profile assignments, or removed from projects they once led,” the authors say.

The National Post reports other studies have shown mums get lower pay and fewer promotions. The research does correlate with findings from a study released earlier this year, which found man are happier when their partners don’t work.


Michelle Rose

Michelle Rose

Michelle is a journalist and mum to two girls who are obsessed with dinosaurs, fairies, pirates and princesses in equal measure. She lives in Melbourne's east with her husband, daughters and a giant, untameable labradoodle. Michelle loves all things vegetarian, wine (it's a fruit) and online shopping.

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