Thirty is a magic number for the new generation — a time when people want their career path and their family life in place. This is a difficult convergence to pull off, but more and more people are aiming for it.
Jessica Marshall Forbes summarizes these feelings as she describes getting married: “We always knew we wanted to get married before we were 30. When you’re younger, in college, 30 seems like a turning point. And as I’m nearing that age, the significance hasn’t changed. Thirty is when you’re really grown up. At 30 you should know what you’re doing.”
For both men and women this is a key age to have their career goals in place. Lia Macko is co-author of the book, Midlife Crisis at 30: How the Stakes Have Changed for a New Generation - And What to Do about It. Macko writes, “It may be socially acceptable to spend time searching for a professional calling during your twenties, but after 30, that grace period ends fast. Adjectives begin to change -- ‘aspiring’ actors/filmmakers/musicians/writers are recast as ‘wannabes’ or ‘dilettantes’.”
However women have a more loaded marker of age 30: their biological clock. “Women take into account their reproductive potential is diminishing,” says Jeffrey Arnett, professor at Clark University and author of Emerging Adulthood. “Women think if they marry at 30 they can have two years with their husband and have a kid and then wait two years and have another kid. But if this doesn’t happen then they worry about the impact on their reproductive life.”
The worries are well founded: The chance of birth complications skyrockets after the age of 35. It used to be fashionable to tell women, “Don’t worry about babies. You have time. Concentrate on your career.” But now that the statistics on late motherhood are clearer, fears have set in. For Forbes, the self-imposed deadline for having children has everything to do with medical risk. She says age is not a concern “as long as I’m not getting to the point where complications start.”
So today many women find themselves in a position where they are struggling to line up a grand convergence of career, marriage and motherhood within a couple of years of age 30. Macko says, “In the past, women had kids when they were lower in the masthead. Now women are making decisions about kids and earning potential and marriage all at the same time and this is specific to their generation.”
This convergence means that it’s the first time in history that a large proportion of women have a big career and small children, and it appears that the combination is almost impossible. For example, 60 percent of women with MBAs are working at home, and an epidemic number of women are leaving corporate life when their children come. Women approaching age thirty face these statistics.