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Levinson, D. J. (1996). Seasons of a woman’s life. NY: Knopf

I read it, so you don't have to. No, seriously, below are some excerpts from Levinson's book on adult women's development. I would highly recommend it. If you still have not picked a book for your book review for this course (you slacker, you), this would be a good one. Hey, it could help you on the final exam, too.

Personally, I would have assumed that mothers who stayed at home would have a closer relationship with their children. However, at least with the 15 housewives in Levinson's story, this didn’t seem to be the case.

"The homemakers generally saw the kids off to school in the morning and received them at home in the afternoon. It was important to be sure that the kids were 'well adjusted' in school and community, and to intervene if there were serious problems. But they were generally not very close to the children and did not know much about their actual life experiences." p. 156

In his survey of career women in EARLY ADULTHOOD, Levinson found that...

"While continually seeking balance, most women found it impossible to give anything like equal priority to the various components of the life structure. In general, occupation was by far the first priority, motherhood second, marriage a poor third, leisure and friendship a rare luxury, and with all the external tasks to be done, almost no time for the self. The women’s lives were usually hectic, at times chaotic and exhausting. Nevertheless, most women considered their lives to be relatively satisfactory and worth the effort." p 349
Why, given all of the talk in our society about "family values", "motherhood" and all that, would women still put their careers first? As a woman who fit this profile for many years, I would suggest it is because they have no other choice if they are going to compete with the men. I had this drilled into me in graduate school in business. (Yes, my first masters degree was an MBA). If we could not be there on the weekends, travel overnight and in a hundred other ways give the same 110% to the corporation that the men did, then we couldn't expect the same compensation or opportunities for promotion, now could we? As a supervisor myself, I have been 'guilty' if that same way of thinking. If I need a grant written it needs to be done by the deadline and regardless of how many children a person has or whether one of them has the chicken pox or a school play, we are not getting the money unless that grant is in on time. So, if I can’t count on Maria to get it out on time, I guess I will have to assign the work to Bill, and when raises and promotions come around....

It is not surprising then, that women put their work first, if they are to have any prayer of having a career which is equally successful with a man's. The unfairness of the situation arises in part from the fact that men often have wives at home to take care of the children and women don't. As the research cited in your textbook has shown, having children is an occupational detriment to women but not to men. Childless women make more money and are more likely to attain positions in upper management.

Why does marriage come so far third? I believe it is because work demands are pressing and must be met if we are going to keep that job, get that raise or promotion. Children’s demands are clear, loud and often difficult to avoid. Mothers feel a sense of responsibility (and guilt). On the other hand, with all of these competing demands, it is easy for the wife to look on her husband’s needs as just another addition to her mountain of responsibilities and to think "For God's sake, he’s an adult, why can't he look after himself?!"

And where does marriage come in from the male perspective? From the women's reports, their husbands didn't appear to be putting marriage first either.

"In the first years of marriage, many young women found their sex lives increasingly unsatisfactory. Also, her husband was more traditional and less supportive than she had earlier imagined. In most cases he assumed that, once the children arrived, the wife would be primarily responsible for child-rearing and housekeeping. Though appreciative of his wife's talent as student or novice worker, he often had difficulty in accommodating to the demands of her career." p 278

During MIDDLE ADULTHOOD, according to Levinson's research,

"We experience work and career from a more private, personal perspective. It becomes less important to ask, "How successful am I in the eyes of the world?’ and more important to ask ‘What do I give and receive from my work?’" p 374.

"When a high level position formerly held by a man was given to a woman, there was often a reduction in salary and authority and an increase in responsibility. This state of affairs was not createdby a few sexist men in a particular corporation or university. It was (and is) a widespread phenomenon based upon the gender splitting in organizations, in individuals (women as well as men), and in society as a whole..... The basic reality is this: organizations tend to exclude women from positions of line authority. Most of the career women found it difficult to gain a sense of their own inner authority and to acknowledge (even to themselves) that they wanted such positions." p 339


Read that quotation above again. THAT KIND OF BITES, DON'T YOU THINK? I have made a major effort in my life not to fall into this exact position. My suggestion to you is to refuse to accept it. If I am offered a position at less money than a male had received, I refuse to take it. This means that sometimes the offer is withdrawn. It is one reason I work as a consultant rather than a college professor, which is work I really loved doing. I refuse to assist someone else in exploiting me by taking less pay than I know I am worth. Actually, I work for somewhat less than the average consultant because I am very selective in the hours I work, the projects I work on and the working conditions. I recently turned down one contract because it would require me to wear a suit every day. I just did not feel like working for an organization that thought they had the right to dictate what I wear. I turned down a second contract because it would have required massive amounts of overtime. They were willing to pay for it, but I just was not interested in working 16 hour days for a month. So, I have made the decision to trade off some salary for a great deal of autonomy. However, as Levinson noted, most women settle for not enough of either. 

When I graduated with my Ph.D. in 1990 from the University of California, Riverside, one of the presentations by the placement office to the graduates included a discussion of starting salaries and gender differences. The presenter noted that from when they had begun collecting data, right up to the present, and from all levels from bachelors through Ph.D.'s, in all majors, women's starting salaries averaged less than men's. One reason for this, she said, is that young women are often so delighted to be offered a job (Someone wants me!) that they take the first, or highest, offer that they get. Young men, on the other hand, were more likely to negotiate, and come back and ask for more. Further, if they did not get more right away, they were more likely to ask for a review in six months and a consideration of a higher salary. 

Whenever I have been offered a position where I did not think the salary was high enough (which has been every position I ever was offered except for two!), I have asked for more money. In three cases, I was either told to take it or leave it, or that someone with my attitude (How DARE you ask us for more money?!) was not wanted after all. In those three instances, though, I got a different job, which did pay substantially more. In all of the other cases, I got the same job, but they decided to pay me substantially more money. My point, and I do have one, is do not set your expectations lower than your abilities. Don't settle for less. If we all do that, maybe Levinson's successor won't be writing the same kind of conclusions about our daughters' experiences in the work place.

During middle adulthood, women come to the realization that not everything is the way they were taught in Sunday School and Civics class. In fact, we are NOT all treated equally, and even after you control for differences in major, years of experience, education, type of industry, etc. significant differences still exist between men’s and women’s pay and promotional opportunities, especially at the upper echelon. There is  a glass ceiling, a point above which women seem to have great difficulty breaking into the corporate or academic hierarchy. There is also what has been called a ‘sticky floor’, that is, bright young women are hired into positions such as file clerk, secretary, waitress, etc. from which there is no real career path upward. Young men, in contrast, are hired as management trainees, assistant managers, analysts, and so on, from which there are clear steps to follow to get to the top of the corporation, while the young women are stuck at the bottom. "Lack of skills" is given as the pure, nondiscriminatory motive for not promoting those young women, completely overlooking the fact that they were hired into positions in the first place which did not give them the opportunity to develop those skills.

This may be one reason that the women in Levinson's study (both older and younger) reported few instances of mentoring of younger women by older women who were farther along in the corporation. The younger women tended to believe that all but a very few career options were open to them, that if they worked hard, they would have just as much success as their male counterparts and that the experiences of the older women breaking into 'a man’s world' were largely irrelevant to them, the younger generation, who would have equal opportunities. The statistics on women's pay and promotion, however, suggest that maybe they should have "listened to their mothers" after all, and that, perhaps, older women's experience is not as far removed from the present-day situation as young women naively choose to believe.

A different kind of assignment

1. Freewriting. If you have never done this, it is time you did. The only rule is, once you begin, you cannot stop writing. Your pencil has to keep moving (or fingers keep typing as the case may be.) For the next fifteen minutes, write down everything you know about development in middle adulthood. Try to include physical development, work, personality, anything you have read in your textbook that you can remember.

For more information about freewriting, you could check out Peter Elbow's book, Writing without teachers, and no, that would not be an appropriate choice for your book review!

Go to the next page - more on love and work in middle adulthood

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