A Paycheck of One’s Own
The surge of importance employment took on for the women in this study is not without context. Second-wave feminism, emerging in the 1960s and 1970s, emphasized the struggle for equal opportunity. Focusing on the transformation of social structures, including law, education, and employment, second-wave feminism sought to change and expand all aspects of women’s and men’s lives. By integrating both workplaces and educational institutions across the social spectrum, women could achieve parity with men in the economic sphere.12 Supported by legislation and enforced by subsequent legal battles, women made their way into the workforce in numbers unknown to previous generations. As a result of the expanding economy, the labor force was able to accommodate the influx of these new employees. A few of the oldest women in this study, who had been the first to achieve in the workplace, spoke of a strong attachment to feminism. Mostly, however, these women were free riders, reaping the benefits of feminist activism without feeling part of the movement themselves. They attended college and established their careers in a time of economic expansion when equality was already mandated and enforced. In essence, they no longer had to settle for good-enough opportunities.
Although higher education and workplace norms have changed to reflect new legislation, the social revolution initiated by women’s entry into the economy seems to have stalled at the threshold of the homeM Husbands have continued serving as main providers and wives as primary caretakers, even if breadwinning is an increasingly shared endeavor. While division of labor in the workplace can be resolved through government regulation, the politics of family life have remained outside the realm of government intervention.
The majority of the women I interviewed described themselves as having been strongly committed to work prior to motherhood.15 They have occupations as diverse as lawyers, managers, consultants, waitresses, and aerobics instructors. Many work in the service sector in feminized occupations (such as nurses, secretaries, social workers, and elementary school teachers). Others work in major corporate, university, and nonprofit settings as managers, professors, and lawyers. A smaller group is self-employed, including small-business owners, writers, Web designers, and contract workers for corporations and hospitals. Annette, a senior manager with a local high-tech firm, described with pride her rapid rise in the company’s ranks in the early to mid-1980s after completing her MBA: 
there and my identity was my work. I kept getting promoted and with each promotion I continued my pace. I reached a pretty lofty position and then the company was bought.
Likewise, Abby, who has master’s degrees in both educational administration and educational psychology, threw herself into her work as an elementary school teacher, winning awards for her innovative style. Abby dreamed of moving up the ladder, too:
I teach gifted and talented children and I love working with young children, particularly troubled kids. I put in extra time developing a new curriculum. I was always working on making myself as a teacher more child-friendly. . . . Still,
I saw that in the schools where I worked, there was a good chance that both of the principalships were going to turn over. I was interested in it. T wanted to move up. So I went back to get certified to be a principal.
Both Annette and Abby received great personal satisfaction from their workplace accomplishments, but they, like Leigh, a journalist groomed for the national stage, marveled at how they had gotten so ensnared in the rush to status that they lost track of their plans for motherhood. Leigh explained:
It was an era where we were constantly reading about the first woman lawyer to do this, the first woman to become senior VP at that. Aid there was very little discussion about motherhood. Now, when I got into my late thirties and began looking back even then and thinking, “Why didn’t I do some of these things?
Why didn’t I think more about having children?” Then of course you get into that thinking, “Well, was the message right?” But motherhood just wasn’t on my radar screen. It just wasn’t.
Akin to the factory workers whom sociologist Alichael Burawoy studied in his 1979 book Manufacturing Consent, these women got so caught up in the intricate game—being first, being fastest, making out—that they unconsciously embraced, at least in the first few years after college, the male model of careerism before they felt the pressure to either get out or rebel.
Besides employment, the living arrangements of women I interviewed represented a significant departure from the past—a departure made possible by the combination of economic and legislative changes. For example, nearly half of the women in this study owned property, and the vast majority of that group received income from renting space. Joy rented alone, close to her job, and then bought a house in the suburbs. After college Claudia moved into a triple-decker (three-family house) with her girlfriends. When Claudia’s landlord decided to sell, her father encouraged her to buy the property, financing it through the rent she collected from the other two units. As important as the condition of the real estate market was at that time, Claudia benefited from the fact that banks had begun extending credit to women to buy houses on their own. This, by itself, separated Claudia from the women of her mother’s generation, who rarely had established credit histories of their own.