NOT many female college graduates are ''having it all.'' Only 13 to 17 percent of women who got degrees around 1972 and were born around 1950 are succeeding in the often-trumpeted goal of having both a career and a family.
Among those who have had a successful career, as indicated by income level, nearly 50 percent were childless. Some 17 percent of these were disappointed with having no children.
''Career still entails large costs,'' says Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin. She has written a National Bureau of Economic Research paper giving these statistics on how well female college graduates have managed to overcome the obstacles they face in combining career and family. Its results are not sunny.
The problem is no longer that women are less educated, says Ms. Goldin. Slightly more women than men attend college nowadays, getting educations about equal to those received by men. More women continue in professional and graduate schools than ever before. Women are given a fairer shake at rising up the corporate ladder. Yet, most of the generation of college women coming close to the end of their child-bearing years are not doing as well as men in the workplace.
Why? Goldin suspects it has much to do with inequality of what goes on in their own homes. Women, she says, are still doing more than their share of household chores and, after a child is born, they become the primary care givers. This gives women less time and energy to devote to their jobs. Men, she notes, talk of looking after their children as ''baby sitting,'' thinking of it as a short task. Women don't use that term.
Goldin looks at the economic fates of five different cohorts, or generations, of female graduates.
The first, a relatively small group graduating around 1910, usually faced a stark choice of family or career. Career generally meant teaching. College men in this generation married and had families at about the same rate as men without higher education. But more than 50 percent of college-graduate women in this cohort either did not marry or, if they did so, did not have children.
Second-cohort women, graduating around 1933, attained higher marriage rates than their predecessors. These women entered the workplace just after graduation, Goldin notes. They remained at work for several years, frequently with aspirations, rarely fulfilled, of a full career. But eventually they had children and dropped out of the work force.
This pattern was reversed in the much larger group graduating around 1955. Female graduates tended to have family first, career later - again often teaching. Many women attended college for ''the opportunity to marry a college-educated man,'' as Goldin puts it. They married and had children at about the same rate as their non-college counterparts. Though their own careers weren't usually lucrative, their husbands did well financially. Those who married in the last year of college or the year after graduation - ''early birds'' in Goldin terminology - found husbands whose earnings were greater than those who married later.
Feminism sprang from this group, Goldin says. Its members knew they were as able as their male friends in college. Many read Betty Friedan's ''The Feminine Mystique,'' published in 1963. But they encountered a world outside college ''not ready for them.''
Members of the next cohort, graduating from 1966 to 1979, have often delayed marriage and children while they pursued a career. For this group, Goldin uses a survey of 5,000 young women that began in 1968 and continued through 1988. She defines ''success'' as exceeding the income of the male college graduate at the top of the bottom 25 percent of male graduates. An estimated 24 to 33 percent of female graduates passed that financial mark. ''Family'' is defined as having at least one child.
This cohort, Goldin says, is the first in US history to contain even a small group who managed to reach midlife with both family and career. (Goldin looks at white women only.) But divorce was more common among those who attained a career (43.9 percent) than among those who didn't (22.5 percent)
College women today, seeking to avoid the marriage and career problems of their mothers, often seek men as marriage partners who proclaim an understanding of their desire for a career. After a long engagement, they seal the marriage deal with an elaborate wedding, Goldin notes. And they have children early.