Top professional women find it hard to combine high-flying careers and babies. But family-friendly businesses cannot solve the dilemmaby Pamela Meadows / June 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2002 issue of Prospect Magazine
Sylvia Ann Hewlett
(Grove Atlantic, ?10)
This book has a misleading title. It is really about choices and the tyranny of time, not hunger. Sylvia Ann Hewlett has discovered that American women earning over $50,000 a year (and to some extent those in Britain and Australia) rarely have children. When they reach their 40s, many of them regret this but find they can no longer conceive. The thesis of this book is first, that women need to understand the terrible mistake they are making by wasting their fertile years earning lots of money; second, that women who plan to have children must put more effort into finding a suitable father in time; and third, that US business needs to be more family friendly.
Recently, the British press has been full of articles inspired by this book, charting the decline in women’s fertility after the age of 35. Women are programmed biologically to have babies between the ages of 18 and 25, yet are programmed socially to have them later and later. Inevitably, postponement of childbearing leaves it too late for some to be able to conceive.
However, the tone of this book only makes sense when we realise that it is written by a woman who is so obsessed by babies that she had one at the age of 51, although she already had four children. Thus, it fails to consider the possibility that many of the high-flying women who responded to her survey, and who regret not having had children, would have made the same choice given their time again. They do regret not having children, but they would regret the loss of their exhilarating and well-paid careers more.
We all mourn for what we have not had. Hewlett is an economist, yet she seems not to have absorbed the central insight of economics which is that every choice that individuals make is constrained (by income, by cost, by time, by taste) and that when choosing between alternatives, people choose the option they prefer. Part of…