By Maxine Frith, Social Affairs Correspondent
10 March 2005
They are the generation of women who grew up expecting to have it all. No longer forced to choose between children and a career, they were set to embrace superwomanhood by doing both – while holding down a perfect relationship and keeping a spotless home in their spare time.
But modern woman has taken a reality check. The average 29-year-old now hankers for a return to the lifestyle of a 1950s housewife. The daughters of the “Cosmo” generation of feminists want nothing more than a happy marriage and domestic bliss in the countryside, according to a survey.
Research into the attitudes of 1,500 women with an average age of 29 found that 61 per cent believe “domestic goddess” role models who juggle top jobs with motherhood and jet-set social lives are “unhelpful” and “irritating”. More than two-thirds agree that the man should be the main provider in a family, while 70 per cent do not want to work as hard as their mother’s generation. On average, the women questioned want to “settle down” with their partner by 30 and have their first child a year later.
Vicki Shotbolt, deputy chief executive of the National Family and Parenting Institute, said: “This is the generation of young women who have seen the ‘have it all’ ethos up close and personal, and they have realised that it doesn’t work.
“Their own mothers may have tried to juggle motherhood and careers, and it may have been the children who feel they lost out … I think women really are coming of age now, and are accepting that it is virtually impossible to have it all.”
And after decades of soaring divorce rates and a rise in births outside marriage, it appears the next generation of mothers is reverting to more traditional social mores.
Nine out of 10 young women would rather be married when they have children, while 75 per cent believe that modern couples do not make enough effort to stay together.
A quarter of those questioned intend to give up work and be a full-time mother when they start a family, with just 1 per cent saying their career will remain a “top priority” once they have children.
According to the survey, for New Woman magazine, young women do not crave the singleton glamour of the Sex and the City series, nor the suburban competitiveness of Desperate Housewives. While just 28 per cent want to live in a city, 34 per cent desire life in a small town and for 38 per cent, their ideal life would be in a village. Just 5 per cent rate their top priority in a relationship as “great sex” while 95 per cent say what they really want is commitment from a partner.
Even traditional hobbies, such as knitting, have been making a comeback, with cinemas offering “stitch and bitch” sessions for women who want to watch a film while creating the perfect homespun jumper for their man.
And the “superwomen” role models of the 1990s have also fallen from grace. Last year Nicola Horlick, who wrote a book entitled Can You Have It All? about her life as a mother of five and millionaire fund manager, announced she and her husband were to divorce.
Lorraine Candy, the editor of Cosmopolitan, resigned from her job and later attacked the magazine’s owners over comments they made about her taking maternity leave. “There is a growing realisation that being at the top of a career might not make you happy in the way that marriage and children might do,” she said.
Margi Conklin, editor of New Woman, said: “There has been a fundamental shift in young women’s attitudes towards life and work. They’ve watched their own mothers trying and often failing to ‘have it all’ and have decided they don’t want it all. They don’t want to work crazy hours while their children are put into nurseries and their relationships disintegrate under the strain.”
She went on: “Young women today are increasingly putting their personal happiness before a big salary or high-powered career. Above everything else, they crave a work-life balance where they can enjoy a fulfilling relationship, raise happy children and have a job that interests them but doesn’t overwhelm them. The age of the ‘superwoman’, who wants to be the world’s best mother, wife and boss, is dead.”
‘I travelled around the world with work but I really love my life now’
Chris Lovelock, 36, from Southfields, south-west London, had a high-flying career as an IT consultant until she decided to give up work in favour of family life.
Now she is a full-time mother to her son Daniel, three, and 20-month-old daughter Alex, while her husband Julian runs his own consultancy.
She said: “I used to travel the world and barely saw my husband because I was away five days a week. We wanted to start a family but I was having trouble getting pregnant, so I handed in my notice and it happened immediately.”
Four months after Alex was born, she worked part-time, but when she became pregnant again, decided to give up her career for family life. “My mother ran a restaurant and although she was there for us when we were young, she was at work a lot,” Mrs Lovelock said.
“I knew I really wanted to be there all the time for my children. I had enjoyed my job but I didn’t want to be a career woman who worked five days a week, had a nanny and only saw her children at weekends.
“I really love my life now. I am the woman on our street who has all the other kids over for tea. I make my own bread and test it on the children, and we do lots of things.
“I will probably go back to work at some point, but it may be for a charity rather than a very demanding job.”
So can women have it all? “Maybe, but it’s not what I want.”
THE COST OF HAVING IT ALL
* According to the Kinsey Institute for research in reproduction, gender and sex, the pressures on today’s married women mean they have less sex than their 1950s counterparts, with just one in three making love to their husbands more than twice a week.
* One in five women born in 1970 has suffered from depression and anxiety in their thirties, twice the rate of those born in 1940, the University of London has found.
* A Gallup poll in 1954 found that 98 per cent of people disapproved of single mothers; today only 38 per cent feel the same way.
* Two-thirds of women in 1954 repaired old shoes; now a similar proportion simply throw them away.
* One social statistic that has remained unchanged between 1954 and today is the proportion of men who claim to do most of the housework, 12 per cent.
* One in 10 marriages entered into by teenage women in Great Britain during the late 1960s ended in separation within five years, compared with one in four that took place between 1985 and 1989.