Taking Stock Of Work-Life Balance

Young Employees
Young Employees

Which careers are better for people who care about family and loved ones as much or more than their precious careers?

Do college and grad school students, a flock of whom just matriculated, examine carefully enough the demands of some careers versus those of others? These are some of the questions addressed by a new study from a pair of Harvard researchers – Lawrence Katz and Claudia Goldin.

Not surprising to managers and executives in almost any career, Finance and Consulting come out the worst when it comes to honoring work-life balance. (Law is not far behind as a career where the employer has little regard for the employee’s personal life.)


For white collar professionals, let’s face it, talent counts but one is often measured more by how many hours are logged.

On most cases (or deals) there is an infinite amount of due diligence that can be done, hence seemingly infinite hours get spent at the office or in front of the laptop at home.

And that leaves very few hours for the spouse and children – not to mention other relatives and friends!

The group of highly educated folks who purports to have the best opportunities for successful work-life balance are medical specialists and doctors. This is somewhat counter-intuitive because we all know how grueling the education and training process is. But by the time they reach their mid-30’s, these careerists report much greater flexibility in schedule and career decisions BY FAR than bankers, consultants or lawyers. Not only is there greater flexibility in day-to-day schedule, but importantly, flexibility regarding sabbaticals, geographical moves, etc.

Education And You -- A CNBC Special Report
Education And You -- A CNBC Special Report

Katz and Goldin are highly regarded labor economists but they compared their work with Harvard grads to several other prominent studies and came back with consistent findings. This probably doesn’t do most of us much good at this point in our careers (unless we hold positions of authority and could be inspired to motivate change within our organizations) but it should be eye-opening for our children and for students and careerists-in-training. As David Leonhardt of the New York Times pointed out last week, young people often don’t consider seriously work-family balance before they have families and they tend to minimize the impact and importance of professional demands – until it’s too late.

For years now, high achievers are selecting tony liberal arts colleges, followed by MBA plans or Law School, striving all along to be highly paid, white-collar professionals. If I were 18 again, I think I might focus on math and science and pick a career in engineering or medicine.

The 20th century is over.

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Erik Sorenson is CEO of Vault, the Web’s most comprehensive resource for career management and job search intelligence. Vault provides top talent with the insider information they need to make critical career decisions. An Emmy award-winning media industry veteran, Erik served as president of the MSNBC cable news channel through 2004. His experience spans radio, local and network broadcast television, cable and syndicated TV, and the Web.

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