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The woman questions

Megan O'Neil | Thursday, September 22, 2005

An article appeared on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times in which female students at some of the nation’s top universities said they were willing to give up their professional careers, either partially or entirely, to stay at home and raise children.   

While women generally make up half the undergraduate demographic and ambitiously pursue graduate degrees in business and law, the article said, that ratio does not necessarily translate into the work force.

The acceptance of fulfilling the ‘stay at home mom’ role signals a shift from our mothers’ generation in which many women were determined to have both a full time career and a family.  

What was printed in the paper closely mirrors what I have observed in my three years at school. I listen as my classmates talk enthusiastically about classes, student government, field placements, MCATs and the Catholic Church.

Five minutes later, however, at the same lunch table the phrases “When I get married …” or “When I have kids …” or “Work part time…” come out.

This is not to say that these two life paths are mutually exclusive or that motherhood debilitates one’s ability to engage in stimulating conversation. Capable women around the world are maintaining fulfilling professional careers while raising children. I myself am the product of such circumstances.

Nevertheless, it does raise serious questions for the female college student of today. Here we are paying a fortune to attend outstanding institutions and working our tails off to earn good grades. Fast forward 10 years and our expensive diplomas are being used for nothing more than wall decorations?

Do we really want to sacrifice our years of schooling and future career opportunities to stay at home?

According to the survey conducted by The Times the answer is ‘yes.’ Roughly 60 percent of the 138 Yale students interviewed said they planned to scale back or stop working altogether once they become mothers.

Some might argue that such an attitude shows a lack of appreciation for educational and professional opportunities available to women today and leave feminist pioneers turning over in their graves.

The difference, however, is that those women of my generation who make the decision to be stay at home moms one day are doing so consciously and deliberately. It is a choice based on childhood development research and personal preference, not tradition gender roles. They have options that women just two generations earlier didn’t have.

Choosing to remain at home to raise one’s children should never be viewed as a waste of an education. Knowledge is valuable in and of itself, even if it is never used in a “professional” setting. Furthermore, a college educated mother knows from experience the importance of having a choice and will make sure her child has the same opportunity to one day make it for herself.