Books: Midlife Crisis At 30
Changing Women's Roles
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin
Friday, March 19, 2004; 2:00 PM
Hitting the glass ceiling? Feel like your hitting a midlife crisis at a young age? Balancing personal life and work has always been a struggle for working women. Women's roles in society have changed from the roles of their mothers. Co-authors Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin explore the different points to balance for the current generation of women in their book, "Midlife Crisis at 30: How the Stakes Have Changed for a New Generation and What to do About It" (Rodale).
According to their book, the average college-educated bride is 28 years-old compared to the age of 22 in the sixties. Many women currently have their first child after their 30th birthday. Women in their twenties believe it is "extremely important" to be financially stable before marrying and live with their partners before getting engaged as an effective way to avoid divorce. Do some of these issues sound familiar to you?
Co-authors Macko and Rubin were online Friday, March 19 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss their book.
Macko has an executive and senior news management background. She co-executive produced a Newsweek/MSNBC Town Hall Meeting on race relations in America, hosted by NBC's Brian Williams, and has served as a Senior Editorial Producer for MSNBC specials hosted by Tom Brokaw. Macko helped launch and develop other MSNBC programs and served as a senior producer for CNN's "American Morning with Paula Zahn" and for Court TV's prime-time news broadcast.
Rubin worked her way up the ranks at CNN from a teleprompter operator to a producer of newsmagazine stories, special projects, and lead interviews featuring the network's top talent. She has covered stories ranging from international terrorism and presidential elections to profiles of celebrities, CEOs, and leading figures in the world of architecture and design. She is currently a segment producer on CNN's "American Morning."
A transcript follows.
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Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: Hi everyone! Thanks for your interest in our book. We are looking forward to chatting with all of you.
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Lia: Thanks for your interested in the book and for participating in the chat! We are ready for your questions!
How about those of us who did everything we were supposed to do, married younger than we should have (thanks to everyone who avoided mentioning this to me before I got married and no thanks to those who now say "boy, you got married young!"), got good jobs, and are starting to feel a delayed wild 20s impulse now that we are 30 and settled...?
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: You are not alone...while some women we spoke to questioned their decisions about becoming so focused on their careers, many women who married early questioned whether they missed work or life opportunities. Part of the problem is that women are by and large not honest about the imperfections in our lives, which gives way to a 'grass is greener' syndrome. Because women of our generation have so many opportunities, we often second guess ourselves and wonder which ones we've missed. One key to happiness we discovered in our research is that it is important to recognize that life is long and you can take many new paths, at different intervals. So the good news is, you married young, and will have plenty of time to schedule new adventures (professional and personal) with your husband.
One thing I've noticed is that many women I know (I'm in my mid-30's) are now leaving the work force and choosing to stay home with their children if they can afford to do so. These women have found that they are subject to ridicule by older women who apparently feel this is "disloyal" to the womens' movement they fought so hard for. Have you observed this as well and why do you think that is?
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: The women's movement was supposed to be about choice. Some women are choosing to leave the workforce to be stay at home mothers - and that is a perfectly valid,positive choice for certain families. However, realistically, most families need two incomes to sustain a comfortable middle class lifestyle these days, so becoming a stay at home mome it is not a choice many women actually have in thier real lives. I have noticed that dymanic you describe and know it is very real. Here is the truth: women have alot of power over other women. We are eachothers worst enemies or best friends in the workplace -it's time that we focus that energy on the positive - to work together more to make the workplace more family friendly so we could all benefit together.
Give me a break! Every generation has it's challenges. You are just growing up, not having a midlife crisis. The world wasn't what you expected, you want it all but don't know how to get it all or even if it's possible, you are very simply hitting reality, the reality of your present world, head-on. Deal with it but for God's sake don't make it some clinical beast. I am a 47 year old woman with kids, career, challenges. Midlife crisis is feeling I'm running out of time, not wondering what I'll do with all those years that stretch before me.
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: From Lia, to Anchorage:
Crisis is a term that means 'turning point.' And what you have is a generation of women, hitting pause to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities we are so fortunate to have inherited! We are well aware of the fact that we are the most fortunate generation of women to walk the planet...what the book is about is sharing information to make sure that women make informed decisions as we move forward, and that we begin to help each other.
Hi Lia and Kerry,
I had a "turn 30 flip-out" at 29. After being passed over for a promotion four times in five months (said company only promoted white men), I realized that I needed a new job, a better apartment, and nicer friends. I also knew I wanted to get married and have kids.
While this sounds like a lot to accomplish, I did get the new job with a better company four months later, while nicer friends and a better apartment followed within months of the new job. Without my "turn 30 flip-out", I would not be the woman I am today - happily married, new career, expecting first baby in July 2004.
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: From Lia, to Chicago: We heard so many stories similar to yours! And truthfully, that is part of why we were so inspired to get the book out there...Many high achieving women thrive in meritocracies their whole lives...from the time they were president of the Student Council, to the first years of their professional careers. But often, as women perceived as professional 'golden girls' in their twenties approach 30, they appear threatening to peers and superiors. For many women, it is the first time any remnant of a glass ceiling emerges, and these self-reliant women tend to question themselves instead of systems. Congratulations to you for NOT doing that...and for taking action. One thing all of the women of our New Girls' Club had in common was that they did not hesitate to leave less than fulfilling situations!
I consider myself to be very independent - I have had to be. Financially, professionally - I've even learned to do stuff around the house! Many of my male friends have expressed frustration with "independent" women in our age group. The guys say they need to be needed. After so many years of making my own decisions and relying on myself, I'm not sure I even know how to need someone else. Thanks for the chat!
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: We examined the exact dynamic you are describing in a chapter in the book titled "The Men's Room" -- where we asked men in their twenties and thirities what they thought about their female counterparts, and what they were looking for in an "ideal woman" romantically. What we learned was fascinating. All the guys we interviewed used the same language (this was a large diverse sample, too) -- they said "I want an EQUAL PARTNER". They loved the idea of being with an independant woman...But when we pushed harder on asking them what that really meant, and how they would handle certain situations (like if that "equal partner" had to cancel dinner plans because of work obligations, or could not pick up the kids because of a client emergency, etc) --- they began to waffle a bit. There is alot of good news here too though, so never fear. Gen-X men are just as concerned as Gen-X women are about quality of life issues -- and studies show our values are more in sync than any other generation of men and women before us. Just as what-it-means to be a successful woman has changed so much over the last 30 years has changed so dramatically, what it means to be a successful man has as well. Don't feel bad about yourself if you have not figured all of this out yet on your own - we are all muddling through all of this change together!
It does not get any better after 30. I did not go through a crisis at 30. However, 40 was bothersome. Now that I hit 50, it's just depressing so I try not to think about it. The crazy part is I do not physically or mentally feel that different from when I was thirty.
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: To Detroit, From Lia:
We knew approaching this project that life throws curves at every juncture, and that it is how you deal with conflict that determines success or failure and one's level of personal happiness. The reason we choose 30 as a marker for this book is that socially, much has changed for women of that age of the last 30 years -- in 1970, the average age of a college educated bride was 22, now it is 28, many college educated women were having their first child before their 30th birthday, now many are having their first child after their 30th birthday...and most signficantly, the number of single 30-34 year old women has tripled over the course of just one generation. So what you see are decisions about major milestones defining a woman's life - questions about marriage, children, earning power - that used to play out in rather predictable ways over a lifetime (marry young, careers built over decades), playing out at on a compressed timetable as a woman approaches 30. Women of every age have challenges, no doubt, but we choose to focus narrowly on the 30s for women because of this compelling research.
Divorce is an issue that has plagued this generation -- we saw our parents split up in large numbers, and now I'm seeing lots of couples who were married in their 20's making the decision to divorce as well.
How does the prospect that half of all marriages fail affect 30-somethings' views on marriage and divorce?
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: An excellent question and astute observation from Baltimore! We are a generation with the dubious distinction of being the first to grow up while our parents were splitting up. It seems that most of us absorbed a similiar core message about divorce: that it happens to couples to marry to young, have babies too soon, or just grow up and grow apart. Accordingly, most of the women we interviewed launched their adult lives armed with a Big Cultural Lesson - the route to marrying the right guy for the right reasons was to focus on ourselves for a while. it's as if, consciously or unconsciously, we have been after a Divorce Insurance Policy and focusing on our own careers and personal passions before settling down was the right way to get it. I beleive this is a real reason why the marriage rates for college educated women have gone from 22 to 28 over the course of one generation.
Admittedly, I bought your book for the cover! The title hooked me in and I've really enjoyed reading it. I've noticed a variation on your findings and was hoping you could comment: Although you postulate (with credible evidence) that women are marrying later and pushing to "get it all done" by thirty, I've noticed an increasing number of college-educated professional women getting engaged at 23-26 (self-included) with plans to have children soon after marriage. Are the younger lot of us pushing the envelope even earlier? It seems many of my friends are determined to have a master's degree, good job, and serious love interest by 25!
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: Thanks for your compliments - we are thrilled that book resonates with you. Our research sample focused on women between the ages of 25-37, however, we are certain that the premature midlife crisis extends beyond that age range in either direction. It seems to be effecting women younger than 25 in profound ways as well...I hope that you find some comfort in the book, and realize that you have a lifetime to figure this stuff out - so don;t beat yourself up if you do not have all the answers yet. That is what I learned from my own midlife crisis at 30! Thanks
Hello Lia and Kerry,
I would like to know how you address research that suggests that the likelihood of divorce is stronger for couples who live together prior to marriage than for those who do not live together. My boyfriend and I (28 and 35, respectively) have talked about living together, getting engaged, eloping, or some combination of these. We looked at a number of studies and found the research does not seem to support the notion that living together prevents divorce. (We also wondered who paid for those studies, and what kind of agenda the funders might have had.) Anecdotally, I know several couples who lived together prior to marriage who seem to have happy, thriving relationships. Any ideas on what the truth of the matter is?
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: From Lia, To Arlington:
Yes, we encountered that research and we intuitively confused by it as well. However, we found some anecdotal evidence in our research that might help explain why living together is not a good predictor of a lasting union. First of all, it seemed that men and women often have different expectations about living together...many men we talked to considered it a rehearsal for marriage, while many women viewed moving in with men as an automatic prelude to marriage. Needless to say, where there is so much confusion about what it means to live together, it often leads to relationship strife later on, even after marriage. There is some research out that also seems to suggest that people who live together before marriage may be more likely to take risks in relationships and that may contribute to it too. We did not encounter any particular agenda in the studies we reviewed...they felt very legitimate, not heavy handed.
New York, N.Y.:
Why do folks in our age bracket put extreme importance on living together before marriage when every study has shown that divorce rates are higher if you live together first? Living in NYC, I understand the financial pressure but it just doesn't seem worth it.
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: in so many ways, living together is the real "starter marriage" for our generation. It's fascinating -- back in 1970, in half of divorces files the women was under 30 years old. Now most college educated women will live with a boyfriend before marrying their husband...somethings change and somethings stay the same, right?
As far as the working world goes and work ethics, how have things changed since our parent's generation? Has the "hard work ethic" been tossed out the window and replaced with efficiency? It seems to me that over the past few decades as more women have entered the workforce, the rat race has intensified. What are your thoughts?
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: From Lia, To Washington:
Hard work has definitely not been thrown out the window...there is not a premium on hard work AND efficiency. The average American employee spends a startling 12.5 weeks more per year on the job than industrious Germans and 6.5 weeks more than those working in Britain. And free time has fallen by 40% since the early 1970s. Add that technology seems to tether instead of free most of us from our jobs and you have many people feeling a severe crunch between their personal and professional lives! So...I totally agree with you about the intensified race, as do the stats!
Changing definition of successful woman: So what does it mean to be a successful woman today? No one has told me!
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: From Lia, To Anonymous: Your question cuts to the heart of the book and beyond. There IS no one version of a successful woman, moving forward, and that is something we hope to communicate with the stories offered in The New Girls' Club section of the book. We deliberately included women in this part of the book who have stories that start to redefine what a successful woman looks like - Vogue writer Julia Reed talks about her first-time wedding at 42, and why she is so happy that she waited - an inspiring message for all of those single women in their 30s, who are worried they have missed an opportunity for love. Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the NIH talks about how she handled an enormous job and a small child at the same time, providing a role model for many hardworking single mothers. We also included women in the book who speak candidly about their choice not to have children...and how they are happy and at peace with that decision. Part of the reason feel so much pressure is that even though we are living in changed times, often outmoded sterotypes or cultural expectations cause us to question our value systems or accomplishments. It is time for us to broaden the definition of what a successful women looks like in our individual and collective minds.
New York, N.Y.:
This topic couldn't have come at a better time! I'm 33, just had my first baby and I've been going thru what I've been hesitant to call a midlife crisis. I'm struggling to redefine my family life with my daughter. My boss has not been very sympathetic to the new demands in my life. And I feel like I've really hit a dead-end at my job. I'm leaving next month to look for a new job and spend some more time with my daughter. But am wondering if my dissatisfaction with my career is a real or passing feeling. I feel like I didn't get an MBA to end up like this. I'm interested to know what are others doing to revitalize their careers at this point?
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: What you are feeling is real. Take some comfort in knowing you are definitely not alone in what you are going through. In many real ways - we are all hitting a New Glass Ceiling: one that makes it really difficult to have a thriving professional and personal life at the same time. Thanks to the amazing women who came before us, our peers are not questioning whether they could become doctors, politicans, lawyers, astronauts etc; the question we are confrotning as a generation is what is the cost of success? A recent study shows that a whopping 75% of professional women between the ages of 25-35 say there professional and personal lives clash, and more than a third decribe the clash as severe. So there is something going on that is bigger that you an as individual here. As for solutions - there are some great ones...we compiled a collection of interviews with happy, satified, successful women in the second half of the book THE NEW GIRLS CLUB...there are great stories there from working mothers about how they managed to build thriving carreers while raising great kids. Check it out - there is hope!
What demographics were involved in writing your book? Yuppie women? Women of color? Professional women only?
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: We interviewed over a 100 college educated women, between the ages of 25-57. Our sample went across the boundaries of geography, race, salary and life experience. The second half of the book, THE NEW GIRLS CLUB: YOUR DREAM TEAM OF MENTORS, is also a very diverse bunch.
I am 38 years old. I have an engineering degree and an MBA from the top-5 ranked business school in the country. I had a great experience at top-notch consulting and corporate jobs for a few years. Then, I had my first kid at age 33 and went part-time. From that point on,focus on my job went down as the focus on family life went up. I now have 2 kids, quit my job 6 months ago to spend more time with my kids and husband. All my decisions have been of my choosing. I am thouroughly enjoying my life right now but want to know as to what are the options for intellectually-satisfying jobs that I can have which I can do from 9AM-3PM??? I do want to be with my kids when they get back from school. Are there other women like me out there or am I a complete aberration?
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: From Lia, To Barrington:
Your question is the question on the mind of EVERY woman we interviewed! Most women we talked to did not really want to leave their jobs entirely when they had kids, and for many, economically, it was not an option. What most women desire is a meaningful way to combine both. Yet despite all all of the family friendly rhetoric, many women left jobs altogether because their status and pay was so diminished upon electing a less than full-time schedule, that they couldn't justify staying. What is clear to us is that we all need to work together over the next ten years to try to make 'part-time power player' jobs a reality for the many accomplished AND family oriented women out there like you. Women are great multi-taskers and that should help us justify more flexible hours and other creative arrangements.
I am 34 and I feel trapped in this prison of responsibility. I am not married and have no children, though I would love to have either of those situations in my life, but I have a mortgage and I feel like an indentured slave to this house.
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: From Lia, To Washington, DC:
You are not alone...many of the single women we interviewed felt the same kind of intense economic pressure. And many felt bad that they were not living up to the glamourous Sex & the City ideal. The truth is, for most single women, that is a myth...most are simply working to hard to be out drinking $12 martinis every night, or to shop for $700 shoes. Some practical solutions we heard from women...some took roomates to alleviate rent or mortgage pressure, even if they had lived alone for a long time. Others left urban areas and moved to places with lower overhead. Others were going to demand raises. There is no quick fix, but you are definitely not alone...and there are incremental changes you might be able to make over time that will help.
Thanks for being here and for writing this book. I will definitely be buying it.
At 30 I am a homeowner, in a high-paying prestigious job, married and kid-less.
But I am so bored with "having it all." I am dying to quit my job, move to Capri and wait tables in a cafe. I don't think my marriage, my job or my house in the burbs is making me happy. I see it as being in jail. I feel like I have been gypped by buying into the whole "go to college, make a lot of money and get married" equation.
How do I figure out what will make me truly happy? How do I know whether I am just taking what I have for granted?
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: there is alot to be learned from the messier parts of life. What we discovered is that scores of women in their twenties and thirties are asking themselves "why is the life I am living so different than the life I thought I would be living by now" -- not depressed as much as bewildered as to life is out of sync with expectations. I too have had fantasies like yours about moving to Capri, though mine usually involve a pina colada stand in the Carribean! But what I have learned from talking to so many women in researching this book is that there are better more realistic ways to make changes in your real life, and you do not need to move to an island to get there...you can really have it all if you stop and give some real though to what "all" means to you. There is not a single cookie-cutter version of that, and the more you can tune out the cultural white noise saying you should do this or that or the other, and the more you can focus on your real goals and priorities, the easier you will find it is to acheive them.
What do you know? I got married at age 30, have a graduate degree and a good job, and now finding myself think about kids at age 34. I could be your covergirl!
But here's my question (or, more accurately, I guess, my concern): I know that the decision about kids needs to be made soon because of my age. But I really don't feel the tug I think I should--in either direction. I've read all of the recent articles about the "opt-out revolution" and, alternately, essays advocating "mothers who think," but I just don't see myself as staying at home with children, sending them to daycare and holding on to the identity I've worked hard to establish, or foregoing them altogether. In writing your book, did you find this kind of giant uncertainty common? And is there hope that if I just keep plugging along I'll have some kind of epiphany?
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: From Lia, to Washington, DC:
Part of our mission of the book is to communicate to women that there are broad opportunities for 'happily ever after.' For many women that does not mean biological children. We included women in The New Girls' Club who were very content with their decision not to have children, and we spoke to other women who found happiness with combined families or via adoption of non-infant children much later in life. So...don't second guess your feelings. Allow yourself to consider the possibility that something other than a white picket fence with three biological children is the right answer for you. We all have to do a better job recognizing what having it all means to us, versus how it is culturally dictated and determined.
Lia & Kerry:
Your book seems like a welcome guide to my unique age bracket. Is it written as more of a guide or more of a story? I'm 25 (going on 30) and feel all sorts of pressures from every aspect of my life. This should be a time of discovery and possibility, but I often find myself feeling confused, overwhelmed, and drained.
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: There are lot of mentoring opportunities available when you first graduate college and are asking questions like "what kind of career do I want"-- but that mentoring seems to dry up fast amoung adult women who are asking "what does it take to build a satisfing, full life?" Part Two of the book - THE NEW GIRLS CLUB; YOUR DREAM TEAM OF MENTORS, is our effort to fill that void. Really impressive women like Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Geraldine Ferraro, mary matalin, Rosanna Arquette, Paula Zahn, Suze orman and Judy blume -- tell these amazing stories about crossroads moments they faced where their personal and professional lives could have gone in either direction. There is alot of great information to be learned from the good decisions they made.
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: Kerry: Thank you all so much for your very smart and insightful questions. I grew up in the DC area, and it's really a thrill to be able to connect with people in my home town! Best of luck to all of you and thank you for your support of Midlife Crisis At 30!
Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin: From Lia, To All:
Thank you so much for your time and your interest in the book...I spent so much time in the Washington area (as an American U undergrad and a Georgetown Law graduate), so I am very happy to have the opportunity to connect with the great women of the Washington, DC area.
Thanks again to all.
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