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Hard Choices

Hard Choices: How Women Decide About Work, Career and Motherhood

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    Hard Choices
    Book Description:

    How do women choose between work and family commitments? And what are the causes, limits, and consequences of the "subtle revolution" in women's choices over the 1960s and 1970s? To answer these questions, Kathleen Gerson analyzes the experiences of a carefully selected group of middle-class and working-class women who were young adults in the 1970s. Their informative life histories reveal the emerging social forces in American society that have led today's women to face several difficult choices.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90813-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. 1 Women’s Work and Family Decisions: The “Subtle Revolution” in Historical Perspective
    (pp. 1-22)

    We are in the midst of a “subtle revolution.” Even seasoned observers, armed with statistics, are pointing to changes in women’s behavior so vast as to warrant this label (Smith, 1979a). Current concerns about “the new working woman” and “the new choice of motherhood” reflect a growing awareness among experts and lay observers alike of the farreaching changes taking place in the work and family patterns of American women.

    The rising number of female workers is the most obvious indication of the changing position of women.¹ The 1970s witnessed a veritable explosion in the number of women working for...

  8. 2 Explaining Women’s Behavior: A Theoretical Overview
    (pp. 23-42)

    To explain why women take the variety of pathways outlined in Chapter One, we must first address the underlying causes of women’s behavior. Two general models for understanding women’s behavior currently prevail: One stresses the role of social-structural coercion, and one stresses processes of early childhood socialization.¹ These approaches parallel two of the dominant approaches in social theory generally, but neither is ultimately sufficient.

    Theories that stress the importance of external structural constraints follow in the tradition of conflict theory, and especially Marxian class (or interest) analysis.² Childhood socialization theories trace their roots to the psychoanalytic revolution, although most of...

  9. 3 Baselines
    (pp. 43-68)

    Children may not devote much time to thinking about their future, but most people, even as children, make both conscious and unconscious assumptions about what they want and will likely be able to get out of life. These early orientations provide a baseline from which adult development proceeds. Looking at childhood baselines shows how, as adults, the women of this study either stayed on course or veered away from their early life goals.¹

    Two points emerge from this exercise. First, for both social-structural and psychological reasons, childhood models and experiences are poor predictors of eventual outcomes. Second, although many of...

  10. 4 Veering Away from Domesticity
    (pp. 69-91)

    This chapter examines the events, experiences, and processes that led some respondents to veer away from childbearing, child rearing, and domesticity and toward strong work commitments in adulthood. The events that marked significant turning points in the lives of these women deserve attention for two reasons. They not only shed light on the process of change, but they also help explain why some lives werenotmarked by significant change. An analysis of change-inducing events highlights the often hidden and taken-for-granted factors that promote stability and inhibit change over the adult life courses of many women.

    Although we will be...

  11. 5 Veering Toward Domesticity
    (pp. 92-122)

    Like the lives we have just examined, the lives of the women analyzed in the first part of this chapter underwent significant change in adulthood. These women, however, moved in the opposite direction: Over time, they traded their earlier work ambitions and aversions to domesticity for motherhood and domestic orientations. They began adulthood with high aspirations and a strong ambivalence toward domestic pursuits, but adult events and experiences intervened to challenge their assumptions and redirect their lives. In contrast to their nontraditional counterparts, these women were exposed to forces in the home and on the job that loosened their psychological...

  12. 6 Homemaking Versus Childlessness
    (pp. 123-157)

    Whether respondents developed a new orientation or sustained an old one, adult events and experiences shaped the way they all built their life paths. Whatever pattern they chose, however, structural crosspressures made it difficult for them to implement and sustain their decisions and preferences. Women who chose to place family and children before other life commitments confronted the dilemmas of how to overcome the isolation that homemaking can impose and how to defend their choices against the growing social devaluation of domestic pursuits. In contrast, women who established committed ties to the workplace faced dilemmas about whether and how to...

  13. 7 Combining Work and Motherhood
    (pp. 158-190)

    This chapter turns to a third group of women—those who chose to combine committed work with parenthood. This group differs from both groups discussed in Chapter Six, albeit in contrasting ways. Unlike domestically oriented women, these women were committed workers who viewed children as potentially costly to their work careers. Unlike permanently childless women, however, they decided over time that childlessness held greater costs than motherhood. These women thus neither wholeheartedly embraced motherhood nor rejected it completely. Rather, they approached parenthood reluctantly, aware of the problems it posed, yet fearful that a different course would hold even greater dangers....

  14. 8 The Changing Contours of Women’s Place
    (pp. 191-215)

    We have followed a strategic cohort of women as they made critical decisions about work and family. They developed a variety of behavioral, psychological, and ideological responses to the variable, contradictory contexts they faced. How can we account for the variety of pathways these women took? What do these pathways imply about the social, psychological, and ideological underpinnings of “women’s place”? What do they tell us about the logic of human development and the role social structures play in shaping it?

    The lives examined in the previous chapters suggest a number of general conclusions about how women make work and...

  15. 9 The Politics of Parenthood
    (pp. 216-232)

    This book has charted the process by which a small but strategic group of women who came of age in the 1970s made inextricably linked decisions about work and family. As women on the cutting edge of social change, this group is especially well situated to illuminate the causes, contours, and likely consequences of women’s changing social position. They were born into a period of rapid social change and thus had to make work and family decisions in a changing historical context. Through their choices, these women became unwitting molders of social change as well.

    Although reared to pursue domestic...

  16. APPENDIX A Tables
    (pp. 233-239)
  17. APPENDIX B Methodology
    (pp. 240-247)
  18. APPENDIX C Sample Characteristics
    (pp. 248-256)
  19. APPENDIX D Interview Schedule
    (pp. 257-286)
    (pp. 287-302)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 303-312)