Jul 06 2015


Published by at 1:12 pm under Rants

Success Billboard

My social media feed last week was full of the news about the Harvard Business School study which showed that daughters of working mothers are more successful… well, within a certain definition of success. I read the headline and then thought briefly about what possible criteria they would use to determine success – my guess was salary and level of degree achieved. I wasn’t too far off: the study attributed success to the daughters of working mothers on the basis of employment; salary; and whether or not their position was a supervisory position. In conclusion, an exceedingly narrow vision of success.

Never mind that we don’t know how or why daughters of working mothers are more successful in those areas or that “working mother” in the case of this study referred only to children whose mothers had held a job outside the home for any period of time before the child was 14.  I really don’t have a dog in the working mother arena, my main issue is with how Harvard Business School and all the news articles portrayed the study in that it’s a pretty soul-less idea of success in life. Before we determine how successful the children of working mothers are, why can we not ask one simple, additional question: Do you find your work meaningful? Hell, give all the kids a scale from 1 to 10 and then tell me: who finds the work they undertake more meaningful?

As industrialized society rapidly plunges towards employment becoming less and less likely for larger numbers of people, we should do better than to simply parrot this narrow view of the world. As long as we base success on salary and define identity by employment we will marginalize some set of people – and that set of people is guaranteed to grow larger as time passes. Not to even touch on the fact that the espoused vision of success has no place for care work. When we determine success on the basis of salary and position, we do a disservice to the multitudes of people engaged in the little-valued (at least, as judged by salary) care work that is so integral to our society: teachers, paramedics, day care workers, home nurses, etc. Everyone’s success in life is predicated on that care work being performed.

My mother would meet the criteria of working mother for the purposes of this study: she spent 3 years or so working outside the home starting when I was 8 or 9. I don’t know if she enjoyed her job, but I do know that her job resulted in us kids being more responsible for certain chores around the house: we were cooking some meals for the family, vacuuming and helping with laundry. Her job helped us take more ownership of our own jobs: schoolwork, helping with housework, etc. That being said, my mother has always had only one stated goal for all her kids: happiness. I cringe at the idea of any other determination for success besides personal happiness or satisfaction or contentment or whatever you want to call it. People are not corporations or bank accounts or stocks to be traded. A larger salary or a job where you boss people around is meaningless if you aren’t engaged in a job which you find challenging or rewarding or interesting. I personally believe that engaging in meaningful work, whatever that work may be, is a prerequisite for human happiness and we ought to be concerned, as a society, about allowing and encouraging everyone to seek meaningful work. But don’t fool yourself: your daughter isn’t doing well just because she makes more money or supervises someone else, at least, not unless she’s also engaged in work she finds meaningful.

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