Possible Futures at Work: Anticipation of Power and Pay by U.S. College
Women form almost half the paid workforce in the United States (U.S. Bureau
of Labor Statistics, 2012), and a consistent message to young women is that
they can expect to work for pay for a significant portion of their lives.
For college students, this expectation may well imply a professional career.
Indeed, most women in this group expect to have careers—although they are
more likely than men to expect to adjust their careers to care for children
(Fetterolf & Eagly, 2011). Yet, in their plans for the future, young women
may not have acknowledged two problematic issues linked consistently with
gender and work: power and pay. Young women may overtly be in denial that
these issues are still linked to gender; however, they may be implicitly
adjusting their expectations to accommodate the possibility of encountering
gender-related difficulties and discrimination with respect to access to
both power and pay. This implicit accommodation can be regarded as a form
of self-silencing (Jack & Dill, 1992; London et al., 2012), and it has
implications both for women’s wellbeing and for women’s collective efficacy
in creating a more gender-equitable world. The research to be described
here examines young women’s expectations in terms of the extent and manner
in which they will be able to be powerful and effective and how well they
expect to be paid in their future careers.
Research in the past decade provides evidence that female and
male university students in the United States and elsewhere differ somewhat
in their anticipation of powerful professional roles. Lips (2000, 2001)
found, in different samples, that women anticipated more relationship
problems associated with powerful roles than men did, and that women viewed
their holding certain future powerful roles as less possible and less
positive than men did. Killeen, Lopez-Zafra, & Eagly (2006) found that,
among respondents from the U.S. and Spain, men envisioned future powerful
roles as more possible for themselves than women did, but that each gender
responded more positively to managerial roles in “gender-congruent”
Research has also shown that women have lower salary
expectations and expect slower promotions than men do (Schweitzer, Ng,
Lyons, & Kuron, 2011). A recent poll of college undergraduates in the United
States, for example, showed that women expected to earn an average of $7700
less per year in starting salaries than men did (Casserly, 2013).
In this paper, I report the results of two studies that examined the
career-related expectations of college students at one U.S. institution.
The first suggests that men still view certain powerful roles (especially
political and business roles) as more possible and more desirable for them
than women do. The second indicates that although women in this group
appear to have stronger commitment to their future work than their male
counterparts, they continue to expect lower salaries at the peak of their
career, more time away from the workplace to accommodate childcare
responsibilities, and fewer career rewards than men do. I reflect on these
findings as indicators of how gender norms constrain young women’s views of
their career prospects against a backdrop of economic insecurity.
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