Move over social work and teaching: today’s women are looking for careers that put a little more in the bank.
A study from Pew Research Center revealed 66 percent of 18- 34-year-old women say being successful in a high paying career is one of the “most important” or “very important” things in their lives. This is a ten percent increase from the last time this survey was done in 1997, while men only increased one percent, from 58 to 59 percent
Among college-aged women, these statistics strike a chord. The class of 2012 is about to step into a job market with fewer job opportunities and more student debt than ever before: 1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or unemployed according to a recent study by the Associated Press, and students borrow an average of $22,000 of debt at public universities, and $28,100 at private nonprofit universities, according to a 2011 College Board study.
As a nursing major at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Caitlyn Waegener said the good pay that comes with nursing solidified her career choice.
“[A high salary] wasn’t the only factor in choosing nursing, but it made me feel concrete in my choice,” she said. “It made me feel I would be independent in my own living and not dependent on another income.”
“I am going to school, and going to be able to pay off that debt,” she added.
Claire Hughes, a biology major at St. Olaf College in Minnesota who hopes to become a physician’s assistant, said she was fortunate to have a passion for a field that traditionally pays well, but says she wouldn’t want it to be what defines her career choice. She said the trend could be attributed to the unprecedented amount of opportunities women have today.
“It is about achievement: especially with women and all the opportunities that our generation has been given,” she said. “You want to do something with [those opportunities]…money is a big way of showing you have achieved doing something with your education.”
Suzy Fox, professor of human resources at Loyola University Chicago, said she has seen this heightened sense of achievement in her students, but she cautioned about the pay inequalities that still exist in the job market today.
“My young female students take opportunity for granted,” she said. “They assume that if they want to be successful they will be able to-- and that is a good thing. However, many of them are not aware that women earn  cents on a dollar. There is an assumption they will be successful.”
However, she pointed out there are more women enrolled in higher education than ever before, and that women are performing as well, if not often better, than men.
“There is no reason to believe that success does not belong to them,” she added.
Some students however, believe success in a career is important—but it doesn’t necessarily have to be with paired with more money.
Sam Schatko, a secondary education major and junior at Loyola University Chicago, actually switched from a cash-friendly career path to education when she realized that was her passion.
“I actually wanted to be a lawyer when I arrived in college,” she said. “However, my passion is more with working with kids and helping people that are less fortunate…It doesn’t matter to me about the money that I make."
Here is what a few other women and experts have to say about the study:
"Just major in what you want to study...High paying jobs have never interested me and it isn’t worth it to me to give up the kind of career I want for financial reasons.” -Sarah Lauber, junior political science and spanish major at University of Wisconsin-Madison
"As a future teacher, being successful in my job is very important, however, since teachers get paid very poorly the "high paying" aspect is not applicable to me." -Gabriela Torres Geary, junior elementary education and spanish major at University of Wisconsin-Madison
"I believe we have to move past the ideology that women are only worth something or worth more for that matter if they have a full time job or high paying career. Recently with Hilary Risen's comments on Ann Romney not working a day in her life made me realize that if we keep putting such tight restrictions on what qualifies women as smart or independent, successful or better than others, we are actually moving ourselves in the opposite direction of where we want to be, in terms of equality and having a stronger voice in politics. Women should be valued if they are stay at home moms, if they are corporate CEOs and anywhere they may fall in between those two stark contrasts." -Ashton Mitchell, junior at Loyola University Chicago
What do you think? Are women more likely to value high paying careers over all today? Why or why not? Let us know! Comment below, or tweet us @Chicago_U.