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Women Who Opt Out

Women Who Opt Out: The Debate over Working Mothers and Work-Family Balance

Edited by Bernie D. Jones
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Women Who Opt Out
    Book Description:

    In a much-publicized and much-maligned 2003New York Timesarticle, The Opt-Out Revolution, the journalist Lisa Belkin made the controversial argument that highly educated women who enter the workplace tend to leave upon marrying and having children.Women Who Opt Outis a collection of original essays by the leading scholars in the field of work and family research, which takes a multi-disciplinary approach in questioning the basic thesis of the opt-out revolution. The contributors illustrate that the desire to balance both work and family demands continues to be a point of unresolved concern for families and employers alike and women's equity within the workforce still falls behind. Ultimately, they persuasively make the case that most women who leave the workplace are being pushed out by a work environment that is hostile to women, hostile to children, and hostile to the demands of family caregiving, and that small changes in outdated workplace policies regarding scheduling, flexibility, telecommuting and mandatory overtime can lead to important benefits for workers and employers alike.Contributors:Kerstin Aumann, Jamie Dolkas, Ellen Galinsky, Lisa Ackerly Hernandez, Susan J. Lambert, Joya Misra, Maureen Perry-Jenkins, Peggie R. Smith, Pamela Stone, and Joan C. Williams.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4505-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PART I. “Opting Out”:: Women’s History and Feminist Legal Theory

    • INTRODUCTION: Women, Work, and Motherhood in American History
      (pp. 3-30)

      When Betty Friedan wroteThe Feminine Mystiquein 1963, she pulled a veil off the “merry homemaker” image ascribed to American women of the postwar era (Tyler May, 1988; Coontz, 2011). It was the problem that had “no name,” women who asked whether being a mother and housewife was all there was to life. These were college-educated women who were told that they should not use their education and training in the workplace. The consensus was that well-educated wives were assets to their husbands as long as they remained in the home, because housewifery meant “true feminine fulfillment.” Her book...

  5. PART II. Is “Opting Out” for Real?

    • 1 The Rhetoric and Reality of “Opting Out”: Toward a Better Understanding of Professional Women’s Decisions to Head Home
      (pp. 33-56)

      Since the Industrial Revolution, when economic production moved out of the home, women have struggled to reconcile the roles, responsibilities, and day-to-day activities of productive and reproductive labor. They have used a variety of strategies, the parameters of which have been defined by their class, race, and immigrant status. Recently, attention has focused on a seemingly new work-family strategy, “opting out,” which is identified with the most privileged beneficiaries of the women’s movement, college-educated professional women. In this chapter, we deconstruct “opting out,” first by providing the historical context in which to understand women’s changing labor force participation (LFP) and...

    • 2 The Real “Opt-Out Revolution” and a New Model of Flexible Careers
      (pp. 57-84)

      In recent years, there has been a great deal of discussion about the “opt out revolution”—the notion that educated, professional women with small children choose to leave the workplace to focus on their families instead of their careers (Belkin, 2003). The basic thesis of the opt-out revolution has been challenged on a number of fronts, including whether it is an accurate reflection of the changes among women with and without children in their labor force participation (e.g., Kreider and Elliott, 2009; Graff, 2007; Boushey, 2005). In this chapter, we argue that the debate has missed a very important point....

  6. PART III. Can All Women “Opt In” before They “Opt Out”?

    • 3 “Opting In” to Full Labor Force Participation in Hourly Jobs
      (pp. 87-102)

      Rather than “opting out” or even being “pushed out,” women in low-level, hourly jobs are often “kept out” of full labor force participation.¹ The practices employers use to contain labor costs in hourly jobs often serve to undermine women’s prospects for sustained employment and adequate work hours. In this chapter, I first present national data suggesting that a greater proportion of women, especially those in hourly jobs, would prefer to work more rather than fewer hours per week. I then draw on research I have led on firms in Chicago to highlight practices found on the frontlines of firms that...

    • 4 The Challenges to and Consequences of “Opting Out” for Low-Wage, New Mothers
      (pp. 103-118)

      The idea of women “opting out” of paid employment to stay at home and care for children has been a topic of hot debate in both the public media and among academics who study women’s employment patterns (Belkin, 2003). In her provocative bookOpting Out: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home, Stone (2007) demonstrates the subtle and not so subtle forces that slowly push women off the career track and send them home with the children, leaving us with the faulty assumption that women are making a “choice” to leave their careers. In fact, Stone convincingly argues that...

    • 5 The Future of Family Caregiving: The Value of Work-Family Strategies That Benefit Both Care Consumers and Paid Care Workers
      (pp. 119-136)

      When higher-income women “opt in” for full-time employment, they are in a position to contract out some share of their responsibilities in the home to lower-income women who then provide these services. This traditional model of redistributing care work frequently presumes that only child care responsibilities are at stake. However, the aging of the population has increasingly focused attention on workers’ needs for help caring for elderly family members. Indeed, care giving for the elderly may equal, if not surpass, child care as the work-family concern of the twenty-first century. Because elder care, similar to child care, is heavily gendered,...

    • 6 Care Work and Women’s Employment: A Comparative Perspective
      (pp. 137-148)

      This chapter examines the similarities among industrialized nations in the demand for care work (child care, elder care, care for the disabled, etc.) as the result of women’s rising employment rates, and the differences international policy impose upon outcomes: who provides care, where, and how they are compensated. While most wealthy countries encourage women’s employment outside the home, many European countries have shifted from supporting high-quality public sector care to a greater reliance on market-based solutions. New social care legislation has focused on creating low-paying service jobs in order to lower unemployment rates, while also meeting care needs outside the...

  7. Part IV. Conclusion

    • 7 The Opt-Out Revolution Revisited
      (pp. 151-176)

      The media tends to cover work/family conflict as the story of highly educated professional mothers “opting out” of fast-track careers in the face of inflexible career paths and very long workweeks, ignoring the experiences of working-and middle-class women.¹ Given that less than 8% of U.S. women hold high-level white collar and other traditionally masculine jobs,² while 27% of U.S. women hold low-wage or blue-collar jobs,³ this paints an inaccurate picture of the issues surrounding women’s workforce participation. Further, the media’s narrow focus on professional mothers of young children suggests that work/family conflict is a trivial issue that impacts only a...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-192)
  9. About the Contributors
    (pp. 193-194)
  10. Index
    (pp. 195-199)