Opting Out?: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home Paperback – Jun 2 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Opting out," "off-ramping" and "following the mommy track" are all popular terms to describe professional women who leave their jobs to be stay-at-home moms. But do they describe the truth of the matter? Stone, an associate professor of sociology at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center, set out to answer this question after discovering that there was no research on the matter; perceptions of these women were shaped almost exclusively by the media. Stone conducted in-depth interviews with 54 women: white women who had been highly successful professionals and were married to men who could support them while they stayed at home—i.e., women who had a "choice." What Stone found was fascinating and surprising: women quit because of work, not family, and only as a last resort: "They have been unsuccessful in their efforts to find flexibility or... because they found themselves marginalized and stigmatized, negatively reinforced for trying to hold onto their careers after becoming mothers." These women were abandoning "all-or-nothing" workplaces where the demands were so unrelenting that, as one mutual fund trader put it, "there were days when I couldn't get up from my desk to go to the bathroom." Stone's revealing study adds an important counterpoint to Leslie Bennetts's forthcoming The Feminine Mistake. (May)
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Readers should be aware that the author, by her own admission (p. 15 of the book), focused on white married women with children and that these women had previously worked as managers or professionals. If you don't fall into that group, this book may not appeal to you. These women, for the most part, also had husbands who could support their decision to stay home.In short, these women often had expensive college degrees and were high achievers.
Stone also points out that women who tend to "opt out" are the exception, not the rule, citing studies that indicate that 70 percent of the women who are married mothers of preschoolers still continue to work. Turn this figure around and the reality is that one out of every four women DOES decide to stay home. This book is an exploration of these particular women and it is written in what I found to be a very nonjudgmental and open style.
The author was also able to get some company heads to admit their mixed feelings about mothers in the workplace, their fears about them being less committed to their jobs or more likely to quit.
Other areas covered in this book include:
Most women quit only as a last resort (p. 18)
Each woman's story was unique, often complex and with many factors.
There was often ambivalence and a shifting of roles within the home
Their decision did NOT signal a return to traditionalism (p. 19).
Their former workplaces often made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to continue balancing family and work, rejecting their attempts to create innovations while maintaining productivity.
If you'd like to know what is featured in each Chapter, here's a quick rundown:
Chapter 1 - Looks at various women (the former Ivy League sports star, the CPA, the Consultant, an editor, a stock trader, etc) and their various experiences at work.
Chapter 2- 3- Looks at the families, children and husbands.
Chapter 4- Focuses on work, problems and challenges and factors that lead to a decision to opt out.
Chapters 6-8 - Life at home, coping techniques, finding new identities.
Chapter 9- Explores possible ways that women could continue to work (if they chose) and minimizing the obstacles that make staying home a necessity, not a choice.
Her results are more nuanced than the "did we jump or were we pushed out?" sound bites you'll hear so often, even used to summarize this book. "Opting Out?" covers the private joys and difficulties of this path, the workforce pushes and family pulls, and the larger societal changes that need to happen to accommodate the needs of working parents. By telling the stories of women who have experienced the trade-offs of career off-ramping, "Opting Out?" presents a full picture with empathy and without blaming, shaming or sentimentalizing the mothers who participated in the study.
Stone presents a brilliant analysis that deconstructs the idea of "choice" while acknowledging that women want to be agents in their own lives. In other words, she understands the limitations of "choice," since women are choosing within a constrained social framework, but she also understands why women want to stand by the interpretation that they have individually chosen their life paths, even as they are reacting to a larger social system.
I had many a-ha moments in reading "Opting Out?" and Stone's findings have made a difference in my own thinking. Finally, here is an illuminating book that is grounded in solid research and avoids the sting of the culture wars.
Stone lets her subjects -- mothers in their 30s and 40s who "time out" from professional careers -- describe their trajectories in unstructured interviews, giving voice to a group we have heard much about but have not heard. She lambasts the media for sensationalizing our so-called mass exodus -- which, in truth, is not so massive and reflects neither a sea-change in values among feminism's daughters nor the modernization of the feminine mystique.
Opting Out? fills a void -- virtually no real research has been done before on women leaving careers -- and it's the question mark in the title that propels the book. Loaded with facts and real data, the introduction alone is worth the price.
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