Women's Attitudes: Some Poll-Based Observations

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EXPECTATIONS AND REALITY: In 1946, the Gallup Organization asked fathers and mothers about expectations for their sons and daughters. Sixty-four percent of fathers thought opportunities for their sons would be better than the ones they had had. Sixty-one percent of women gave that response about their daughters. When Gallup repeated the question half a century later, fathers' optimism about sons was about the same. But mothers' optimism about their daughters had soared. Eighty-five percent of them said their daughter's opportunities would be better than their own.

The CIRP/HERI/UCLA annual surveys of college freshmen show a dramatic change over the last generation in the highest level of formal education their mothers obtained. In 1966, the first time this question was asked, 18 percent of college freshmen said their mothers had a college education or more. In 2006, more than three times as many, 58.9 percent, said that was the case. What happened?

The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth provides some clues. In 1968, 27.5 percent of white women aged 14-24 said they expected to be working at age 35. The labor force participation rate for these women at ages 35-44 in 1985 was 71.4 percent. In 1979, 71.7 percent of young white women expected to be working at age 35. Within a short time span, women's expectations about what their futures would hold changed dramatically, and they began to prepare themselves differently. . . .

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Karlyn H. Bowman is a senior fellow at AEI.

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