Two sisters, different choices

Raised by working-class parents — Dad’s a construction worker and Mom a practical nurse with a GED — the Hopper sisters excelled in school. Briallen earned a PhD from Princeton and lectures in English at Yale, barely earning enough to pay her student loans. Johanna, 20, gave up on college after a year. Debt-free, she works at a bakery for slightly more than minimum wage. They write about their very different choices.

About Joanne


  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    Too bad neither sister pursued a technical degree. A two or four year nursing degree from a community college or starting at a community college is affordable and a good employment bet. There are a plethora of other technical degrees and certificate programs that keep educational cost very low but provide good middle class employment opportunites.

    But his is all very pragmatic, isn’t it? Not very romantic.

    • And, of course, maybe they didn’t want a technical degree. One is a lecturer and the other works in a bakery. Clearly, the tech trades are not their skill or interests. I think one point is that it’s not all about the job or income.

      Our biggest problem in encouraging four year degrees is not being honest about job prospects. While the stats show a degree holder earns a higher wage, that doesn’t cause a person to earn a higher wage. It’s too often touted as a guarantee when personality and character are as significant in success.

      We need fewer companies using the BA as screening process, and we can’t keep encouraging BAs when the costs are too often not justified.

  2. Cranberry says:

    The older sister’s “entering her mid-thirties.” The younger sister is 20. In fifteen years, it would be interesting to compare the younger sister’s financial status to her older sister’s present status.

  3. Something seems misleading…. article indicates the younger sister works full time earning $13,000 per year. A full time worker is generally 2080 hours (40 hrs/wk x 52 wks). This works out to $6.25 / hour which is below the federal minimum wage (she may be in a state with a higher min wage). The break-even for minimum wage is about 34 hours for her which may still be technically full time, but it is on the lower end for full-time employment hours.

    Regardless, she is still young and if she follows normal wage progression, she shouldn’t be at minimum (or near minimum) wage for long with experience and improvement of job skills unless attitude and .

    • Mark Roulo says:

      I suspect that “full time” here means “has a job with regular hours” and probably that those hours are “more than 20”. At the company where I work, you qualify for benefits at 30 hours/week and I can reasonably see a non-temp working 30 hours/week with benefits described as “full time”.

  4. meant to finish thought … and with the right attitude and effort.

  5. Different strokes for different folks – the one girl is twenty years old – maybe she’ll change her mind in a few years.