The phrase “having it all” is a loaded one.
Usually, it’s used in a negative sense — that people can’t have it all, or at least can’t have it all at once. It’s also more likely to be used about women than men, most famously in the Atlantic’s story by Anne-Marie Slaughter last year about Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.
But what does it mean?
My next big project (Mosaic) involves collecting time diaries from women who “have it all” — which I defined for research purposes as a) earning over $100,000 a year and b) having at least one child under age 18 — that is, still living at home. It’s a very rough definition of having it all, to be sure, but I assumed that people would quibble with the income part of it more than the family definition.
But it seems I may be wrong, according to a recently released study done by Citi and LinkedIn. They found that only 73% of professional women surveyed included children in their definition of having it all. This was significantly lower than the 86% of men who said children figured in their definition of success. Intriguingly, on the marriage side, just 66% of women thought being in a strong loving marriage was part of having it all, while 79% of men thought that.
Since achieving a trifecta — a happy marriage, children, and a successful career — is probably more difficult than only achieving, say, 1 out of 3, it’s interesting that we seem to think it’s harder for women to have it all (because by whose definition would you measure this but your own?). Men appear to have a more traditional and strict definition, which would seem to make it harder for them. Indeed, slightly more men than women (50 percent vs. 48 percent) told Citi and LinkedIn that finding the right balance between work and family was their major career concern.
So what leads to the headlines? Perhaps it’s that women report more stress at both work and home than men do. A recent Pew Social Trends report likewise found that women feel more tired and exhausted than men do in all major categories: from work to childcare to housework to leisure.
There’s a concept called “confirmation bias,” and what it means is that once you have a thesis in your head, you tend to look for evidence that supports that. So I wonder if this is going on, broadly, in society, too. We think it’s harder for women to have it all, and so the same event (“I learned to make dinner during a PBS show” – as I’ve now seen a few can’t-have-it-all manifestos lament) is viewed differently. For women, it’s evidence that women can’t have it all. For men, what’s wrong with cooking dinner in 22 minutes?