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Opting Out?

Opting Out?: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home

Pamela Stone
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 314
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  • Book Info
    Opting Out?
    Book Description:

    Noting a phenomenon that might seem to recall a previous era, The New York Times Magazine recently portrayed women who leave their careers in order to become full-time mothers as “opting out.” But, are high-achieving professional women really choosing to abandon their careers in order to return home? This provocative study is the first to tackle this issue from the perspective of the women themselves. Based on a series of candid, in-depth interviews with women who returned home after working as doctors, lawyers, bankers, scientists, and other professions, Pamela Stone explores the role that their husbands, children, and coworkers play in their decision; how women’s efforts to construct new lives and new identities unfold once they are home; and where their aspirations and plans for the future lie. What we learn—contrary to many media perceptions—is that these high-flying women are not opting out but are instead being pushed out of the workplace. Drawing on their experiences, Stone outlines concrete ideas for redesigning workplaces to make it easier for women—and men—to attain their goal of living rewarding lives that combine both families and careers.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94179-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    It was a glorious fall day on the jewel-green playing fields of my suburban hometown and a fellow soccer mom had just given an especially touching and poised tribute to our sons’ coach—the familiar end-of-season ritual accompanied by gift. Upon being complimented for her sure delivery, Ann turned to thank us, adding self-effacingly, “I guess a law degree from Yale is good for something.” Until that moment, I knew Ann as the quintessential stay-at-home mom: kids, dog, husband with high-powered career, active in the community. I had no idea, despite our many chats on the sidelines, before PTA meetings,...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Dream Team
    (pp. 21-39)

    The Coxswain. Kate Hadley, thirty-nine and mother of three, was a coxswain. Not just a coxswain, but captain of the women’s crew team and the first woman to be elected president of her Ivy League university’s rowing club, which included the men’s and women’s teams. Knowing little about crew, I asked her what a coxswain did. The intensity and enthusiasm with which she answered made clear why Kate had won the confidence and vote of her fellow rowers. “The coxswain,” she told me, “is the person who literally sits in the boat and bosses people around and gives commands, calls...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Family Matters
    (pp. 40-59)

    Regina Donofrio worked for a well-known media conglomerate as a senior publicist, a job that had her “riding around Manhattan in limousines with movie stars.” It was a job she “had done for a long time and was very comfortable with,” a job that she “really liked a lot,” and a job, not surprisingly, that she did not hesitate to return to after the birth of her first child: “I decided I would go back to work because the job was great, basically.” But Regina soon found herself “crying on the train” as she commuted in, torn between her competing...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Home Alone
    (pp. 60-79)

    With two Ivy League degrees and a highly successful career marketing a brand recognized worldwide, Kate did not hesitate to relocate twice to advance her husband’s career. Despite her desire for advancement and strategic career-tending, she repeatedly deferred to her husband’s desire to move. Each time, his decisions—when to move and where to move—maximized his career to the detriment of hers. Her husband’s wish to be closer to both of their families meant that they settled so far away from corporate headquarters, where Kate had worked before going overseas and was still well-regarded, that it was impossible for...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Gilded Cages
    (pp. 80-104)

    Meg Romano’s day-in-the-life account gives a vivid feel for the fast-paced, intense nature of her job as a trader for a major mutual fund:

    But you’ve got to understand that they were making a fortune, and we were working like dogs, because the market is just skyrocketing, and there were days when I couldn’t get up from my desk to go to the bathroom. There were days when, you know, you were having [your period], you’d know you were in trouble, and you couldn’t get up to deal with it, and that’s disgusting, to work with that. The pace was...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Choice Gap
    (pp. 105-131)

    Melissa Wyatt, a thirty-four-year-old who had given up a full-time job as a fundraiser to work part-time as a school administrator before finally quitting, described her decision: “I think today it’s all about choices, and the choices we want to make. And I think that’s great. I think it just depends where you want to spend your time.” Olivia Pastore, forty-two, a lawyer whose career had taken her from full-time to part-time and ultimately home, had a different take: “I’ve had a lot of women say to me, ‘Boy, if I had the choice of, if I could balance, if...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Half-Full, Half-Empty
    (pp. 132-154)

    Regina Donofrio, the film publicist who had been crying on the train, never feeling she was “in the right place,” then made to feel a sacrificial lamb when her request to job-share was denied, “never looked back a second” once she was at home full-time. She “just loved every minute of it. I just felt so secure, so solid in my decision, and so adamant that this was the right thing to do. I immediately got in a groove at home with other mothers, immediately did some travel with my family. It was very much the right move for me....

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Mothers of Re-Invention
    (pp. 155-180)

    Busy with renovating her new house and getting her children settled and into schools, Kate Hadley also found time for making friends and taking on a variety of volunteer jobs. But she was not sure that volunteer work was the path for her: “But even that I’m not totally comfortable with because I feel like is that what I’m going to do? Or should I do some part-time work? And so that’s what I’m thinking about this summer.” Her husband urges her to “just stop traumatizing myself, ‘just enjoy being a stay-at-home mother.’ He thinks I have to give [staying...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Cocooning: The Drift to Domesticity
    (pp. 181-206)

    As we’ve seen, for women whose lives since adolescence had centered around achievement and conventionally defined professional success in the public sphere of the workplace (almost all of whom had also always assumed they’d combine careers and kids), the private world of home and family was initially akin to uncharted territory. Women went through enormous conflict and change in making the decision to quit, but change continued apace even after their initial period of adjustment. As women carried out their newfound “careers” as mothers and community volunteers, their experiences in these capacities were eye-opening and formative. Life at home was...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Dreams and Visions: Getting There
    (pp. 207-238)

    At the conclusion of my interviews, I asked wrapping-up questions such as “Is there anything else you’d like to add?” These always seemed to prompt women to step back from the details of their own life stories to return to their larger goals and ambitions, as if to reconcile the before and after parts of their lives. They did so with an evaluative eye—usually with a “wouldn’t change a thing” outlook, but sometimes with a lingering “what if? …” wonder about the road not taken. As the wrapping-up ruminations of the Dream Team illustrate, reconciliation was not easily achieved....

    (pp. 239-256)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 257-276)
    (pp. 277-286)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 287-295)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 296-296)