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Is Technology Liberating Women?
–by Preeti Aroon | December 11, 2006

“Impregnate me now.”

A woman I know had given her husband this command back in May 2003. The woman, who at the time was completing her Ph.D., had an academic conference to attend in April 2004. To be able to make the conference, she needed her yet-to-be-conceived baby’s birth to fit into a schedule: Conceive in May, deliver in February and attend the conference in April.

The challenge of determining the best time to have a baby is one I came across often in graduate school, where many women in their mid to late 20s are at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives. They may be at the biologically optimal age to have children, but they are neither financially nor personally ready for a baby.

cute baby!
Photo credit: Tigerzeye

As a result, American women of the 21st century struggle to weave their career aspirations and their desires for a family into a life that allows them to have both a fulfilling profession and children—something men have always been able to do. Unfortunately, biology and culture have an inconvenient habit of getting in the way.

Biology dictates that women are the ones who carry, deliver and nurse infants. Culture dictates that women are the primary caregivers of small children.

This mix of biological and cultural realities means that women such as the “impregnate-me-now” woman struggle to determine the best time to have a child. For some women, the right time to have a child never comes, and the biological clock simply runs out, evaporating dreams of motherhood.

Humans have an uncanny ability to adapt, however, and as the 21st century progresses, the obstacles posed by biology and culture have a strong chance of being overcome. The struggle to balance career and family may certainly become a struggle of the past, one that will come to be viewed as the “birth pangs” of transitioning from a male-dominated society to one in which the sexes are equal.

Biology dictates that women are the ones who carry, deliver and nurse infants. Culture dictates that women are the primary caregivers of small children.

Advances in reproductive technology will get women out of the mode of feeling they need to make a tradeoff between career and family. In 2005, a 66-year-old retired professor became the oldest woman ever to give birth.

Talk about a post-retirement second career.

Although many people today question the appropriateness and even the ethics of women bearing children in their 40s, 50s and 60s, older motherhood is certain to become more accepted over the next few decades as reproductive technology evolves and becomes less expensive, and as life expectancies increase. Remember that there once was a time when a woman unmarried by age 30 was considered a spinster.

Simply put, many women will obviate the challenge of the work-family balance by sequencing motherhood after career. Right now in the year 2006, this might sound crazy and far-fetched, but consider this fact: From 1978 to 2000, birthrates among American women 35 to 44 more than doubled, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The primary barrier to motherhood at even older ages is merely human biology, and technology is swiftly making that barrier history.

Older motherhood makes sense: An older woman is more likely to be financially and personally prepared to have a child than a woman in her 20s or 30s. Young women must struggle to pay off student loans, find a life partner and buy a house, all while working long hours to establish themselves in their careers.

Technology will also benefit women in another way: more options for telecommuting. Advances in information technology mean that more Americans will be able to work from home.

Older women are more secure in their lives. They have found their life partners. They have settled in a house, and have saved money. They are at points in their careers where they have the seniority to take off more time and demand more flexibility in their work schedules. (Or, if they are like that retired 66-year-old professor, they no longer have to work.) It becomes the perfect time to embark on motherhood.

So, just as the birth control pill gave women more control over their lives, technologies that permit motherhood in middle age will liberate women from the career vs. family dilemma.

Technology will also benefit women in another way: more options for telecommuting. Advances in information technology mean that more Americans will be able to work from home. Parents of all ages will be better able to continue working and advancing themselves professionally while caring for a young child.

In addition to technology, cultural changes will also enable women to better juggle work and family responsibilities. More men are taking on the role of Mr. Mom and becoming primary caregivers for small children. As an increasing number of women come to have more earning potential than their husbands, it is only logical that there will be more stay-at-home dads.

And, of course, there are demographics. As the baby boomers age, older workers’ demands for part-time work and flex-time (where workers have some latitude is establishing their own work hours) are likely to increase. The boomers—particularly those who haven’t saved enough for retirement, but who want a reduced workload—will desire part-time and flex-time work opportunities, and employers will have a difficult time resisting such a large, vocal demographic. Mothers of the future will benefit from these more flexible work policies.

That “impregnate-me-now” woman told me, “I’m debating having a second child, but I don’t know how to time it.” A few decades from now, this woman’s predicament will be a predicament of the past, one overcome by technological innovation and cultural change.

Preeti, 28, recently graduated from Duke University with a master’s degree in public policy. Her background in writing includes stints as an op-ed columnist at The Chronicle (Duke’s student newspaper) and at the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper in her hometown of Lexington, Kentucky.

The views and opinions expressed in these comments do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The CulturalConnect.


December 13, 2006, 15:18:21
naoj very interesting one, this 🙂

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