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Wednesday 7 July 2010

“The Making of a Generation: The Children of the '70s in Adulthood”

So, on the day I wanted to 'launch' my blog, a news story surfaced which not only piqued my interest, it could well have been one of the very reasons I wanted to start blogging.

Professor Johanna Wyn co-authored a book with Lesley Andres called “The Making of a Generation: The Children of the '70s in Adulthood”, based on findings from a Life Patterns study, alongside findings from a similar study, 'Paths on Life's Way' in Canada. The Life Patterns research program is run by the University of Melbourne Research Centre.

Intro-ing an interview with Professor Wyn, the Today Show's Lisa Wilkinson asked: "Why are so many thirtysomethings ditching the workforce?"

"[Generation X] wanted it all,” she continues. “Marriage, family and most importantly, a career. They've certainly forged new ground. Just take a look at the new Prime Minister. But not everyone's story ends in career fulfilment. In fact, Gen X is fleeing the workforce."

According to the book, of those who went to university, only 38% of Gen X women work fulltime, compared to 90% of Gen X men.

To clarify, Gen X is defined as people born between 1965 and 1981, and Generation Y are those born between 1982 and 2000. Interestingly, the US, Canada, and Australia all have different cut-off points for the generations. The above is Australia’s definition.

Firstly, let me say this: I do not want it all. I don't want to cart my two and a half year old twins to daycare every day at 7am, so I can battle traffic, arrive at work stressed, then positively shit myself if I need to stay back at work which means I run late picking up the kids before 6pm. Kudos to the [super-duper] women who do this, but it is not for me. Even when I was heavily pregnant, my supremely gorgeous editor let me work a few days a week from home and my gosh, I appreciated him so much for that. That whole rat race is exhausting at the best of times; worse when little people are depending on you. Granted, I’m in a profession which allows me to freelance from home, and to get through my work in peace, I started putting my kids in daycare one day a week, increasing it to two days a week recently. But I just couldn’t cope if I had to work five days a week (just quietly, I work seven; I just do it from the comfort of my couch) out of my home with two kids’ needs to worry about too.

Actually, it’s not surprising that 38% of uni-educated women are leaving the workforce, or working part-time.

Says Professor Wyn: “Our explanation for it is that there is a lag, in that workplaces are not as family-friendly as they could be. And women are feeling that it’s too hard to try and continue the battle of juggling childcare, work and all those other things in life, like just keeping well.”

As Lisa so wisely pointed out, “It’s just really hard to fight the way the gender divide works; men still earn more, and women are the ones who still fall pregnant and undertake the greatest amount of childcare.”

Professor Wyn thinks that this will perhaps change for Gen Y. She cites the move towards getting better, more family-friendly policies into workplaces and recognising the importance of getting good quality childcare to support people with children in those early years.

Yes, all positive steps. But don’t be fooled; it will still be hard to juggle all those balls in the air if you want to work, have babies, and you know, eat, bathe, and get some sleep.

“These are valid choices that people are making,” she says, “and it just points to that gap between the groundbreaking changes that Gen X made and the world around them which hasn’t changed quite as much as we would’ve perhaps expected to see.”

I often have one of those joking-but-serious moments when I say to my husband, “I want to write books - lots of them - and you can retire.” And I actually really mean it. He’s an awesome Mr Mum. And really, I’d love to go back to work; I miss the work environment very much, and the office banter, and getting dressed up every single day. And maybe it’ll happen, or maybe it won’t. One thing is certain though: I do have it all. And so do you. It just looks different from what we expected.

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