Then I read the most frightening article in the New York Times, David Leonhardt's coverage of a Harvard Study showing the economic and family costs of consulting and finance careers, "Financial Careers Come at a Cost to Families." The research, by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz of Harvard, answers a question that college students, for all their careful career planning, rarely consider: which jobs offer the best chance at balancing work and family life?
The research considers the financial penalties, mainly salary decrease upon re-entry, of graduates in a variety of fields after an 18 month employment absence. For the vast majority of these graduates, this is for child-rearing, though in many cases it's caring for elderly parents and for the very lucky, the rare sabbatical. Golding and Katz's research shows that the best work-life options, with the lowest salary penalty for time off, comes in public policy and surprisingly, medicine. Lawyers and CPAs fare fairly well but who was hit the hardest? MBAs, with concentrations in finance and consulting. Good work, Jenn. No wonder this whole career and family thing was so hard to pull off!
If I could take myself back to the spring of 1997 when I was graduating from college, or even earlier, when I was picking my major, would I have done anything differently? Would I have chosen a different path? Probably not, I loved the academic work and the practical applications even more. What I wish I had known is that there is a financial penalty to on ramping and off ramping, that some fields, and sub-sectors, are friendlier than others, that I would have to plan (to the best of my abilities) when and where I'd have my children.
So there you have it, new grads, the world is your oyster (or at least in this recession, your Spam), take it run. But think carefully about where you want to be in 5, 10 or even 15 years. It seems improbable that at 21 years old, you could actually ever be 30 something trying to figure out how to raise your children and maintain an career, but the steps you take today will impact just how hard it is to find that balance.