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

Pamela Stone

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Book Description

June 2 2008
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.

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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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“A highly worthwhile book.”
(American Journal Of Sociology / AJS 2010-03-02)

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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A nicely balanced look at the pros and cons of opting out, with real examples Aug. 1 2007
By K. Corn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What I particularly liked about this book: Stone's interviews and discussions with actual women who decided to opt out of working (even though many of them could have made big bucks) as well as her solid research.

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.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From "choice" to culture, the full picture of the "opt-out" phenomenon May 23 2007
By Amy Tiemann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Opting Out?" provides a clear-eyed look at the lives of stay-at-home mothers. Sociologist Pamela Stone conducted extensive interviews with 54 women to trace their life-career paths. This research is just what was needed to shine a fresh light on this often-divisive topic. Through interviews and her own analysis, Stone creates a coherent narrative that explores the joys, challenges, and social context of the opt-out phenomenon.

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.
35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not really applicable to us "normal folks" June 7 2008
By A. Stiteler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Although it seems that the author really did her homework, the bottom line is that the subjects in this book are super high earning and super high acheiving women married to even higher acheiving/earning husbands. The study itself is fascinating and I'm sure that many of the home "pull" and workplace "push" factors apply to women of all income, education, and racial/ethnic backgrounds but the bottom line is that these were women who could AFFORD to stay home seemingly without making any compromises in their lifestyles. I was more interested in learning about average/middle class families, with moms who ended up staying home even with great consequence to their socioeconomic status, as is the case with many moms who choose to stay at home. I mean, this book is talking about women married to high-powered Wall Street investment bankers, women who are CEO's and stockbrokers themselves...sorry, but these women could afford to stay home. What was so groundbreaking about that? "Feminine Mistake" was much more in tune with the "real world" types of lifestyles and it went across economic and racial lines, something that this book does not do. Plus, it made for a somewhat dry and boring read.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars important topic Nov. 13 2007
By a reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's hard to understand how the great United States can fall behind other countries in this area (and don't get me started about breastfeeding.) For me as a mom who sort of opted out or took a hybrid approach (took a decrease in pay to work part time out of my house), I was actually surprised at my own reaction to having children. Before I became a mom, I was sure I would always work and find a nanny for my kids. Once they were actually here, I couldn't pull myself away from them, bear to leave them with someone outside my family for any extended periods of time, or ever dream of being pulled away from them when they were sick. I guess the good thing about that is that there was no internal struggle. I knew where I needed to be. I am working and with my kids at the same time-and my mother helps me on those days. (If I could swing it financially, I would quit all together and be with them completely.) Thanks for researching and writing about this important topic. I hope it encourages more work in this area.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read April 29 2008
By L. Husi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book was great. I would recommend this book to any women thinking about starting a family or anyone concerned with the shortage of women in corporate world. This book read almost like a novel since you follow the lives of several women. It is very enjoyable and dosen't preach about which choice is better for a women to make, working or staying at home. I really liked it and learned a lot. My one complaint is that women in this book are all super rich and had very powerful jobs. Perhaps the author should have looked at minority and middle class women as well.
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