Moms with Ivy League Educations

Apparently it is somewhat unethical in the feminist world for women to go to the Ivy League and then become a full-time mom.   I know several women who have Ivy League undergrad or graduate degrees and have, for at least part of their lives, been full time moms.  I am married to one, for example.  I have a few thoughts on this:

  1. People change plans.  Life is path-dependent.  Many women who ended up being full time moms out of the Ivy League will tell you that it still surprises them they made that choice.
  2. Why is education suddenly only about work?  I thought liberal arts education was all about making you a better person, for pursuits that go far beyond just one's work life.  I, for example, get far more use of my Princeton education in my hobbies (e.g. blogging) than in my job.   The author uses law school as an example, and I suppose since law school is just a highbrow trade school one might argue it is an exception.  But what is wrong with salting the "civilian" population with non-lawyers who are expert on the law?
  3. Type A Ivy League-trained full-time moms do a lot more that just be a mom, making numerous contributions in their community.  I am always amazed what a stereotyped view of moms that feminists have.
  4. If spots in the Ivy League, as implied by this article, should only be held by people seriously wanting to use the degree for a meaningful lifetime career, then maybe the Ivy League needs to rethink what degrees it offers.  Ask both of my sisters about the value of their Princeton comparative literature degrees in the marketplace.  By this logic, should Princeton be giving valuable spots to poetry majors?
  5. I can say from experience that the one thing a liberal arts education, particularly at Princeton which emphasized being well rounded, prepared me for was being a parent.  I can help my kids develop and pursue interests in all different directions.  One's love of learning and comfort (rather than distrust) of all these intellectual rubs off on kids almost by osmosis.  In other words, what is wrong with applying an Ivy League education to raising fabulous and creative kids?
  6. The author steps back from the brink, but this comes perilously close to the feminist tendency to replace one set of confining expectations for women with a different set.

Oh and by the way, to the author's conclusion:

Perhaps instead of bickering over whether or not colleges and universities should ask us to check boxes declaring our racial identity, the next frontier of the admissions should revolve around asking people to declare what they actually plan to do with their degrees. There's nothing wrong with someone saying that her dream is to become a full-time mother by 30. That is an admirable goal. What is not admirable is for her to take a slot at Yale Law School that could have gone to a young woman whose dream is to be in the Senate by age 40 and in the White House by age 50.

I would argue the opposite -- the fewer people of both sexes who go to law school to be in the Senate by 40 and the White House by 50, the better.

Update:  My wife added two other thoughts

  • Decades ago, when her mom was considering whether she wanted to go to graduate school, her dad told her mom that even if she wanted to be a stay at home mom, a good graduate degree was the best life insurance she could have in case he died young.
  • Women with good degrees with good earning potential have far more power in any divorce.  How many women do you know who are trapped in a bad marriage because they don't feel like they have the skills to thrive in the workplace alone?


  1. davesmith001:

    Add to this how easy it would be for a person who wanted to "only" be a mother to lie on that part of the application.

  2. Chris Kahrhoff:

    Yes let us have "elites" determine even more for our lives at an earlier and earlier age.

    Hey Warren, Drop the princeton bullshit it is SOOOOOO old.

  3. marque2:

    You don't think the kids write what they think administrators want to hear.

    Write on your form, I want a business degree so I can get a day job as a bank teller and stay at home half time to take care of kids, would not get you into Princeton. You have to write how you want the degree to change the world.

    Another poster on a review of this article (On Best Of The Web Today yesterday) pointed out that what elite schools seem to be good at training kids to do, is to focus on what other people want to please them, and they have excelled at this all their lives (it is how they got into the Ivy's in the first place). So we get a whole elite class of "yes people" who may be bright, but are very susceptible to group think and not questioning ideas from their superiors.

  4. Morven:

    I'd generally say if you want to be able to say what someone does with their education, you had better be paying the bills. The ones paying for it are the ones that decide whether it was a waste.

    Besides, sunk cost.

  5. terrence:

    One of my undergraduate majors was in Philosophy - I LOVED TAKING ALL THOSE PHILO COURSES. But, at NO time did I see it as "job training". It was mind training, opening, and expanding; so indirectly it did help me in all the work I did after.

    I ultimately studied Computer Science at university and worked with computers until I took an early retirement. But, I applied few of those courses directly in my day-to-day work - they gave me a background for working with computers (not at all like taking some welding training - which would be job training, according to some welders I know)..

  6. J.s. Bridges:

    A very large "A-a-a-men!!" to your final statement - based on the results we've seen in terms of the sort of "professionalism" we've been getting in the Inside The Beltway crowd, coupled with the sort of crapulation we've been seeing in the Oval Office of late, it would seem to be a good idea to make graduation from law school a disqualifying factor to holding elective office of any kind at the national level.

  7. SamWah:

    #1--Ziss ist VERBOTEN!

    #2--Silly, silly Warren! The strident (is there another kind?) feminists will castigate you for that.

    #3--Amazed? Surely not surprised, though.

  8. Matthew Slyfield:

    #2 Because even with federal financial aid, the vast majority of students CAN'T AFFORD a college education that does not increase their income potential.

  9. David:

    Ivy league degrees are relatively pricey for general liberal education, but if one can afford it, then why the problem?

  10. NL7:

    Several law school applications asked me about my future plans as a lawyer, and both my interviewers (which were for top schools, so this is not some insurgent practice) asked extended questions about my career experience and goals. And the most common admissions essay is about how the applicant wants to enter X area of law following on some prior life experience in that field. This is at best half a filter, though, since anybody with the grades and LSAT score to be a plausible Yale Law admit can probably come up with a believable story about their career; they can figure out their real goals after they get admitted.

    Schools already have a strong interest in picking graduates who will go out and do important things, make money, spread their name, etc. Famous graduates raise the profile of the school, accomplished graduates raise its reputation, and wealthy graduates raise its endowment. Full-time parents can still give to schools if they have wealthy spouses or generous inheritances, or very successful first careers, so the effect is not absolute. But schools already have good reason to admit people who will actively expose others to the quality of the school by becoming famous in business, law, acting, politics, or whatever.

    Any marginal applicant to Yale Law will still have good admission chances somewhere else among the Top 14 law schools, like Berkeley or Michigan, and in many cases Stanford or Harvard. So I'm not sure I really see the problem here. You can learn Torts and Contracts anywhere.

  11. NL7:

    Why? He sort of downgraded it, saying only that it helped him be better at hobbies and parenting (not sure you'll see this pitch featured prominently in their admissions pamphlets). Is it rude to even mention that he went to an Ivy league school? He's not bragging about it, he's just mentioning it and being awfully humble about it. He didn't even mention HBS.

  12. NL7:

    This is why so many people go to law school. Not scientific enough for med school, not aggressive enough for B school, too literal to get Humanities PhDs, and too smart (in their own minds) to stop after a Bachelors. Most law schools are full of people who couldn't come up with any life plan more creative than "I'm really smart but have no specific talents, so I'll be a lawyer." Then they graduate and realize that they have to actually be lawyers.

  13. MingoV:

    "... one thing a liberal arts education, particularly at Princeton which
    emphasized being well rounded, prepared me for was being a parent..."

    Typical ivy league snobbery. My undergraduate education was at at technical institute. I guarantee that I am more "well rounded" than the average ivy league student with a liberal arts BA. Taking a music or art appreciation course and reading history, philosophy, poetry, Shakespeare, Spenser, etc. does not make one well rounded. It is more important to know how to think and reason and how to acquire information and make productive use of it. Also, people are not well rounded unless they know some economics, understand high school-level sciences and the scientific method, understand basic statistics and probabilities, are critical thinkers, and are continual skeptics.

  14. Ted Rado:

    You are so right. Unless you have a rich father, you need to learn how to make a living. I am a retired chemical engineer. My hobbies include military history, classical music, and backpacking. I did not need to study these in university. I can pursue these interests on my own.
    I have known MANY liberal arts, poli sci, fine arts, history, etc. majors who work in retail. I wonder how many of them wish they had majored in something else.

  15. marque2:

    Truthfully if you are going for a career, and you can not increase your earning potential I see little point. I am not one of those, get educated for educations sake folks. If your plan was to go to college to increase your earning potential and you do Ivy league to get a sociology degree, it won't work.

    However, if your plan is to get a good education, and get married to someone who can support both your student loan and their own, is not a bad plan.

    Also note, most kids don't pay full rates to IVY colleges they for the most part get 1/2 scholarships, with the full rate going to the rich kids whose parents really want them in and are going to donate a new wing to the library anyway - so it isn't as bad as some of those reports suggest. In fact frequently the private schools are less then state schools when scholarships and the fact you can actually get out on time are factored in.

  16. Matthew Slyfield:

    Even if everything you said is true, ivy league or not, a "traditional" liberal arts education is still unaffordable to the majority of students.

  17. marque2:

    I would strongly discourage most kids from going into a "liberal arts" education in the first place. Should probably price them higher.

    In fact if student loans were private, it would be much harder to fund your Sociology degree - since banks wouldn't see that you would be able to pay back the loan. Might even cause such degrees to cost less as universities would either have to close them or price them according to their real added value.

  18. hanmeng:

    "Pro-choice" apparently only applies to abortion.

  19. Seb Tombs:

    People (men & women) need an education to be fully independent financially & otherwise. However, if a person, knowing that they will not use them, takes up 4-8 years' worth of scarce resources away from someone who will use them - it IS a waste.
    Since women had to fight VERY hard to be admitted to elite schools until very recently, to get in, study & then turn around & do only mothering, gives ammunition to the idiots who would deny such an education to women.
    Yes, there is a choice of life paths & they change, but to knowingly get a great education to just be changing diapers & being in the PTA is a waste of valuable resources. Few men make that "choice".

  20. KT33:

    In the 1950's my father told my mother they should each get graduate degrees because it would be the best life insurance policy. I think that is still good advice...from the Ivy educated wife.

  21. jg:

    Good Lord, whose business is it to pass judgment on what anybody does with his/her college degree? A lot of stay-at-home moms also write books, run charities, become political activists, even run home-based businesses. If you don't think motherhood is honest work, fine. A lot of mothers don't think much of the "careers" at, say, law firms and hedge fund trading desks. In fact, they find much of it repulsive. I know a woman (PhD, JD) who walked away from a major law firm when they broke out the cigars after fleecing a major corporation on product liability claims they knew to be false. She became... a stay-at-home mom (and later dabbled in politics). Her son—who subsequently got her undivided attention—eventually went to Harvard. So life is complicated. We shouldn't be so quick to question people's motives or priorities.

  22. lvh:

    Well, this is an interesting discussion. As a double Ivy degree-holder (both undergraduate and graduate), I felt compelled to weigh in here. I distinctly remember when I decided my major (Politics), my father was a bit uncomfortable with that. "What will you do with that degree? What sort of job will you get with that?" he asked. I confidently told him that it did not really matter what my degree was in, I would be able to find a job (the folly and confidence of youth!).

    As luck would have it, I took a class in the engineering school in programming (crazy!) on my father's advice. I managed to have job offers in Actuarial Science, Computer Consulting, Technical Writing, and Advertising. Couldn't live on the advertising income (a princely $14,000) per year, so I took the Consulting gig, reasoning that it would, at the very least, expose me to various industries to help guide my decisions when it came to graduate school. And so it did.
    For the person grousing about "what to do with a sociology degree?" I would encourage him to ask our First Lady, a Sociology major from my class at Princeton. Seemed to work out pretty well for her. Oh, and look at that, she is a stay at home mom at the moment. What a waste (tongue firmly in cheek)!
    I can't say I intended to stay home and raise my children when I arrived on the Princeton campus as a freshman. I was fairly certain that we would change the world (at least, that is what they told us repeatedly that we would do). It is what my mom did, but she never even completed her college degree as, back in the day, she worked at a job to pay for my father's education, both undergraduate and graduate. I worked for many years, tried like mad to get pregnant. When it finally happened after 6 years of effort, I was completely aware of what I had walked away from, and I was also completely okay leaving it to raise my son. I wanted to do it all and I was surprised by how much I truly enjoyed it, all of it. I have been at it for 13 years now and don't regret it at all. Perhaps if people realized the very important work mothers do, they wouldn't continue to say "only" mothers any longer. I don't much care, it is right for me and my family. Others can manage in their own way. Doesn't matter to me a whit.