November 2013 | 

Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family


We are experiencing a baby bust. Birth rates in the United States have been declining for decades, and fell below the replacement rate in 2011. For college graduates, the rate has fallen even more precipitously. A groundbreaking cross-generational study conducted by Wharton management professor Stew Friedman reveals that the rate of college graduates who plan to have children has dropped by about half over the past 20 years. These percentages were almost the same for men and women.

The reasons for the decline, and the need for a proactive response from business leaders, are detailed in Friedman’s new book Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, from Wharton Digital Press. Understanding young people’s changing views and expectations for work and family, he argues, is imperative for future organizational success.

Friedman, founding director of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project (which started in 1991), reveals both the good news in these findings (there is now a greater freedom of choice for men and women) and the bad (new constraints are thwarting the family and career ambitions of young people). The problem, he states, is that the world has changed but the workplace has not. “Our collective failure to address adequately the issue of integrating work and the rest of life has finally emerged as the critical economic, social, political, and personal issue that it is, and it is deservedly capturing serious attention and accelerating experimentation with new models for work and family for men and women.”

For business leaders, he notes, “It’s wise to encourage people to engage in dialogues with important stakeholders and to experiment with small changes that can enrich their families, enhance their engagement with their community, and improve their health — all while enhancing the bottom line. [We need to] make it easier for men, and women, to live more whole, fully integrated lives.”

Baby Bust offers an astute assessment of how far we have come and offers concrete steps for moving forward. Friedman makes a compelling call to action for social policy changes and for organizations that need future leaders who can bring together their business and family lives for the benefit of both.