Write a story or publish an article about how women just can’t have it all and so they are rushing back into the arms of their kids, or about how women just really want to stay home with their kids no matter how many fancy degrees and elitist jobs they might have, and you will be an instant media sensation.

Funny, though, about the kinds of stories, including the results of scientific studies, that just don’t get that kind of ink. The one I want to tell you about today has been available online since February of 2012 (and in print soon after), but I have yet to see any attention paid to it in the popular press.

Maybe that’s because the study suggests that very few women express regrets about prioritizing their careers instead of their families.

In the study, the authors asked women – more than 300 of them – to answer questions about career and family, including options they did not pursue and what they would do differently if they could. The study is limited in a number of ways. For example, all of the women had graduated from the University of Michigan, most were White, and they answered questions at just one point in time (so, it was not a longitudinal study).

Three groups of women were included:

  • Those who graduated in 1951 or 1952, and were 66 years old, on average, when they participated in the study.
  • Those who graduated in 1972 and were about 46 years old when they were questioned.
  • Those who graduated in 1992 and were about 26 years old when the data were being collected.

The results were straightforward. Of those women who expressed regrets about their lives, the vast majority regretted prioritizing family. That was true in every age group. The percentage who only expressed regrets about prioritizing family, and expressed no regrets about prioritizing career, were as follows:

  • 98% in the oldest group (the 66-year-olds)
  • 68% in the middle group (the 46-year-olds)
  • 83% in the youngest group (the 26-year-olds)

I immediately wondered about the proportion of women who had careers. The authors addressed that, too. For example, they noted that “although 85% of the 1972 (or middle) cohort participated in the paid labor force, only 22% of them reported regrets about prioritizing their career (p. 540).”

I am not claiming – and neither are the authors – that no one ever regrets prioritizing their career. What I am saying, though, is that media firestorms based on the individual experiences of one person, or the opinions of just one pundit, should be tempered by data from a larger group of people, questioned in careful ways.