“Opting back in” is SO much less sexy than “opting out,” apparently.

Judith Warner on “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In:”  Why isn’t this story getting all the attention that Lisa Belkin’s “Opting Out” story got a decade ago?

The 22 women I interviewed, for the most part, told me that the perils of leaving the work force were counterbalanced by the pleasures of being able to experience motherhood on their own terms. A certain number of these women — the superelite, you might say, the most well-off, with the highest-value name-brand educational credentials and powerful and well-connected social networks — found jobs easily after extended periods at home. These jobs generally paid less than their previous careers and were less prestigious. But the women found the work more interesting, socially conscious and family-friendly than their old high-powered positions.

.       .       .       .       .       .

Among the women I spoke with, those who didn’t have the highest academic credentials or highest-powered social networks or who hadn’t been sufficiently “strategic” in their volunteering (fund-raising for a Manhattan private school could be a nice segue back into banking; running bake sales for the suburban swim team tended not to be a career-enhancer) or who had divorced, often struggled greatly.

When Lisa Belkin attempted to reach out this spring to the women she interviewed in 2003, she found a similar mixed picture. Many of the women declined to talk about their lives; a few would talk only if they were not identified.

Middle age is a kick in the pants.  A friend of mine warned me when I turned 40 that “no one gets out of her forties” unscathed.  But why, I wonder, would people “talk only if they were not identified?”  I guess it’s difficult for people to go off the culturally-approved script, or to admit that they lost in the gamble they made, or to say things that might hurt their family members.  It’s probably easier for the divorced women to tell it like it is, although the women who remain married to the same husbands suggest that leaving the paid workforce permanently shifted power relations in their marriages:

The husbands hadn’t turned into ogres. Their intent was not to make their wives feel lesser. But when traditional gender arrangements were put into place, there was a subtle slide into inequality. “The dynamic changes,” said Hope Adler, a former manager at the professional-services firm KPMG who spent 10 years at home full time with her four children before starting work again and choosing to take a much-lower-paying job at a smaller consulting firm that allowed her to work some of the time from home. “When I worked at KPMG we did 50/50,” she said. “We were making equal money. Then once I started staying home, I was doing laundry, dinner. . . .” But once she started working again, the expectations remained the same. “There just doesn’t seem to be a way to go back,” she said.

No $hit, Sherlock!  Duhhhhh!  Awesome!!!  Eleventy.  Are there any other cliches and verbal representations of my eyeballs rolling back in my head that I’ve overlooked so far?

I wish Warner had interviewed their daughters and sons as well to ask them about their experiences growing up and what their plans for the future might look like.  The divorced woman who agreed to be photographed and interviewed explicitly lectures her 12-year old on the importance of staying in the paid workforce:

It’s a midlevel sales job, a big step down from the senior position she held before she had children and quit work. When she was first hired, in May 2011, her salary was just a fifth of what she earned at her peak. But, she said, she wasn’t complaining. All around her, she saw women her age scrambling to find work, some divorcing and losing their homes. She liked to help them, editing their résumés, polishing cover letters, pumping up tearful friends who forgot what they were worth after years without a paycheck.

After one emotional session with a friend, her 12-year-old daughter asked what all the fuss was about. O’Donnel told her: “This is the perfect reason why you need to work. You don’t have to make a million dollars. You don’t have to have a wealthy lifestyle. You just always have to be able to at least earn enough so you can support yourself.”

Before she “opted out,” O’Donnel was earning half a million dollars a year.

44 thoughts on ““Opting back in” is SO much less sexy than “opting out,” apparently.

  1. This:
    “No $hit, Sherlock! Duhhhhh! Awesome!!! Eleventy. Are there any other cliches and verbal representations of my eyeballs rolling back in my head that I’ve overlooked so far?”

    You are so, so right!

    This article, even if we ignore for a moment the extreme privileges these women enjoy(ed), is so frustrating! Did they not expect that if they became stereotypical upper middle class 50s housewives that their husbands would become 50s husbands without thinking about it? And that they wouldn’t jump at the chance to do housework if the women chose to work outside the home again? And that they wouldn’t value higher paid work more within the relationship?

    At least they can still get credit cards in their own names, eh?

    Like you, I wish they’d interviewed sons and daughters. And I wish they’d asked the women who were having problems getting back into the workforce and who had difficult marriages what they hoped for their sons and daughters.

    Here’s my guess: they hope their sons will find jobs that enable them to have a wife who stays home and raises perfect little grandkids for them, and they hope their daughters will get jobs that enable them to choose for themselves.


  2. You know, I kind of sympathize with one of the husbands in the story. Here’s what he says:

    And Ted had kind of had it. Here he was, he said while coming and going from the kitchen where he was making French toast for the Mattox’s youngest child, earning the household income, helping drive the kids around, pitching in on laundry, housekeeping and cooking, while Kuae, in his eyes, was blithely giving her time away — free — to a volunteer organization. He’s a numbers guy, he said. From his perspective, the numbers pertaining to what he called her at-home “journey of self-discovery” just didn’t add up to be a very good deal for him or any husband whose nonearning wife still expects to split household drudgery 50-50.

    If I were supporting a spouse and he or she had time to **volunteer** labor when there was productive labor to be done in the household, I’d be pissed off, too. We all would love to go on journeys of self-discovery, but it’s not fair to ask someone else to pay for them indefinitely.


  3. I went to Yale with someone who enlisted with a high-flying investment bank and had a plan (which will sound bizarre, I know): put away $4 million by the age of 35, have a baby, and then do something ill-paid and intellectually rewarding. Which she did. Instead of spending all her money on luxury goods, she saved it, hit her benchmark, and at 35 scaled down to the life she really wanted (she is currently a university professor in — wait for it! –Ireland.)

    Now, many of us have that meaningful, chosen life without the $4 million. But there are some people who feel like they need the security of a big bankroll. What I don’t understand are the folks with the big salary who want (and believe they are entitled to) the whole pie — without ever making decisions about what they value or how they want to live.


  4. About a 1000 years ago a wise man said: (I translate and cruelly adapt) “everything is expected, but you have the freedom to go your own way.” When one of the individuals in the couple makes way more money, it’s kind of expected that person to dominate. Many women, however, dominate in couples earning, smarts, beauty not withstanding.

    A shift towards higher quality of married life may be taking place. In the young couples, I know, sharing is totally unqualified. Everyone contributes as much as they can. Men cook, shop and work. The apriori divisions are gone. I may be totally wrong.


  5. I think it hasn’t gotten much attention yet because it hasn’t actually been published — it’s in this Sunday’s magazine. It’s been available for a few days online, but a teaser doesn’t even appear consistently on the website.


  6. I hate that these women are somehow the bell weather for all women’s choices. Are we supposed to follow them out and in of the workforce? In another ten years, will we all get another update and have to adjust our lives accordingly?

    Why isn’t this story being told truthfully — that these women made poor choices and should never have been held up as role models in the first place?

    As I said on facebook, they’re like cats: always on the wrong side of every door. They’re out, they’re in, they’re mommies, they’re entrepreneurs — who cares? Very few women I know live these kinds of privileged lives.


  7. This story won’t get much attention after its publication date. Not only is its thesis politically incorrect for the style page, but the message is ambivalent. For example, although the interviewees miss their money and prestige, at the end Warner writes that none want their old job back.

    Kudos to this writer for the rigor she brought to a trend piece: Warner set out to talk to Belkin’s cohort of 2003 rather than follow the usual method of mentioning a prosperous friend of a friend who did something and thereby speaks for women. One true (but unspeakable) thing to say about the opt-out revolution is that women are treated worse than men in misogynous workplaces and therefore want to get out. Warner, admirably, went as far as she could.


  8. Sorry, but screw O’Donnel. Or rather, screw the media’s attempt to generalize her experience into some kind of universal, sociological Statement About Women Today. If she’s earning “only” one fifth of what she made at her peak, she’s still earning almost twice what most teachers – and some tenured professors – make! This kind of sh*t perfectly exposes the limits of so-called choice feminism: many choices are themselves privileges. But we’re not supposed to say that because she’s a woman! and she made choices!

    Also, notice how it’s all about celebrating women’s agency when they choose to stay home, but when those choices backfire, it’s back to woman-as-victim.


  9. I don’t think that Warner’s article shows these women as victims. None of them demand that we see them this way. loumac, you’re too callous to say “screw O’Donnel.” She quit her $500,000 job to reduce her stress and conflict in her marriage, but she ended up divorced anyway, and Mr. O’Donnel sounds like a complete and total douche. You’re right that making $100,000 is way more than I or most humanities proffies of my generation will probably ever make, but I never made $500,000 in the first place!

    I think LadyProf is right–Warner goes as far as she can. She pulls some punches, but I think the moral of the story is clear: these women opted out, and while they may have enjoyed “the pleasures of being able to experience motherhood on their own terms,” they are paying the price now both in terms of much lower earnings and no reduction in conflict in their marriages (and some of them are divorced.) She doesn’t go as far as Squadratomagico would have–“these women made poor choices and should never have been held up as role models in the first place”–but I think the gist of her interviews is clear.

    One also wonders what the lives of the women who refused to be interviewed, or to be interviewed by name, are like. I think Warner lets us know that there are a lot of women out there who in retrospect regret serving as poster-childs for choices about which they now have many regrets, or mixed feelings at least.


  10. “Also, notice how it’s all about celebrating women’s agency when they choose to stay home, but when those choices backfire, it’s back to woman-as-victim.”

    QFT. Related to that, when a couple of dozen informants from a narrow demographic cohort say they opted out, behold a universal truth about Women. Belkin or her editors actually wrote with a straight face, “Q: Why don’t more women get to the top? A: They choose not to” in 2003. When opting out turns out poorly, well gee, that’s individual and private and complicated and we mustn’t extract any generalization about reality for women.


  11. I read that and was also taken by the caveat that, for some women who had degrees from prestigious institutions and had cultivated useful networking connections (volunteering with an elite Manhattan preschool, etc.), the transition back into the workforce wasn’t that hard (although these women still took a financial hit and went back to work at a less prestigious rank). It was the women who didn’t have both of those pluses who struggled the most – in other words, the 99%.

    That said, I’m always bemused by people who “opt out” of the workforce and think that it will be easy to “opt back in”. I’ve known people who’ve opted out due to a special-needs child or a partner’s relocation to an area without employment opportunities. Every single one has faced a real struggle and usually a complete reinvention when “opting back in”.


  12. Man, you are all so harsh! (Except Janice.) Even harsher than me. I just don’t see Warner portraying these women as victims of anything other than their own choices.

    If you haven’t yet, read Warner’s whole article. I think she’s absolutely making a larger sociological point about the opting-back-in generation, with the caveat that these are for the most part 1%-ers (or top 10%-ers, in any case). (It’s the NYT, after all.)

    I found this article to be an excellent companion to Leslie Bennetts’s The Feminine Mistake, which gets a brief mention in the article.


  13. My mother opted back in when Belkin was about two years old, and almost literally on the eve of Friedan’s _Feminine Mystique_, although for familial strategic reasons of her own devising. (Opting out fifteen years before that had been the default mode of the culture). I don’t recall it as having been an agonizing thing to get done, in what I think was a mild recession year, but she tended to get done what she decided to get done. I have no doubt, empirically, that it was an upgrade economically and creatively–adjusted for inflation and social change–from the work world she had once left, although she had fewer bureaucratic genes than I even do and didn’t enjoy any of the academic autonomy or tenure protections that I do. As an academic beneficiary of the move, it’s hard to recall it with any real clarity or rigor. But with respect to the internal household dynamics part, she just flat-out announced that she wasn’t going to be doing any double-shifting (probably not her term). And that unless the menzfolks were prepared to ramp up the housekeeping contribution more than she could imagine, things were going to be a lot less neat and clean, and family meals were going to be a whole lot more on the wing. All of which pretty much happened. My father did expand on the housework side quite a bit, although perhaps with more acquiescence than grace. She retired after a stroke at her desk thirteen years later, with most of the strategic family tuition payments finally in the rear-view mirror, which is probably the part of the whole thing that most shapes my own thinking about work, for better or worse.


  14. Okay, unnecessarily callous about O’Donnel herself. But I did read the whole piece, and found Warner’s writing about O’Donnel in particular to be a bit manipulative – I do think she was going for violin strings with the whole “oh noes, her apartment is next to a gas station and a parking lot” lead. WHile Warner is indeed to be commended for following through with Belkin’s original subjects, rather than quoting a New York high-society mother she met at a party, I can’t help feeling a sort of fatigued frustration when reading yet another piece in which things like “she had a housekeeper” and “the nanny was out sick” are thrown in as afterthoughts. Admitting that this was a small elite demographic doesn’t change the fact that continuing to write about them reifies their experiences in really problematic ways. ‘Cherchez la femme’ has become ‘Chercher la domestique’.


  15. I find this really depressing. Obviously the assumption that taking are of kids is a woman’s job is problematic, but I also find the idea that full-time, paid jobs are more valid and valuable for individuals and families to be problematic. Sometimes it’s not a choice, and putting so much of our worth and sense of identity behind jobs is not healthy. We can’t guarantee ourselves job security or even continuity in the long term right now. That’s what really concerns me – “opting out” may be a choice for these 1% types, but what happens if you “opt out” because you’re job searching while visibly pregnant, or moving due to a partner’s job, and can’t find a new job for a long time? What if you lose a job, or can’t get one for a while after finishing school – are you then pretty much worthless until you find a new one? (Sounds like an exaggerated hypothetical question, but that’s pretty much how unemployment feels.) Putting our self-worth in work can be just as dangerous as assuming we don’t need financial independence.

    As usual, the problems here are much bigger than women’s individual decisions….


  16. This was the best article I’ve ever seen Judith Warner write, but given that I usually have to take out a teeny tiny violin or run to the restroom every time I accidentally run across one of her articles about having to give up their little house in Paris or how she creates her own problems via neuroses, the bar wasn’t set high.

    I like the way, as you mention, she points out that the “opt-out revolution” is really an upper middle class story, if that (I’m still not convinced there’s anything revolutionary about it–I’d bet that high earning husbands are now more likely to have working wives than they were before. It all depends on your frame of reference what the story is.).

    I also like the way she’s got a paragraph in there acknowledging that someone did some research showing that super privileged women who opt out have no problem getting back into the labor market but guess what, less (but still) privileged women who opt out do. There’s a mighty big labor economics literature on what opting out does to women (literally textbooks full of research), and it isn’t pretty. Focusing on the 1% tells very little of the story.

    For the median woman, the main lesson from the literature is to stay in the labor market *even if* your income just covers daycare, because opting out sets you back behind where you were when you opted out. (Not even counting the years you weren’t advancing in your career.) There’s a lot of nuances (some careers are more forgiving, some women have very strong preferences, etc), but that’s about right on average.


  17. @squadro
    That is a FANTASTIC Salon article.

    And I SO want her to write that education piece. I am sick of people saying it’s college professor salaries. It’s not like there hasn’t been actual research done on the increasing costs of education.


  18. Yes, that’s what Leslie Bennetts argues in The Feminine Mistake, a really smart book IMHO.

    The research she quotes does not show that “super privileged women who opt out have no problem getting back into the labor market.” It says rather that they have it easier when looking for work, but that the jobs they take are almost inevitably at lower pay and prestige. Warner’s summary:

    A certain number of these women — the superelite, you might say, the most well-off, with the highest-value name-brand educational credentials and powerful and well-connected social networks — found jobs easily after extended periods at home. These jobs generally paid less than their previous careers and were less prestigious. But the women found the work more interesting, socially conscious and family-friendly than their old high-powered positions.

    The Sylvia Hewlitt research she quotes is not only about the most elite women:

    Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist and the founding president of the Center for Talent Innovation in New York, surveyed thousands of women in 2004 and after the financial crisis in 2009. She has found that roughly a third of “highly qualified women” leave their jobs to spend extended time at home. Though her subjects were all women with graduate degrees or bachelor’s degrees with honors, they didn’t necessarily have the elite credentials of the women in Stone’s research and many reported having a difficult time transitioning into the work force.

    Most of the women, Hewlett found, stayed home longer than they had hoped. Eighty-nine percent of those who “off-ramped,” as she puts it, said they wanted to resume work; but only 73 percent of these succeeded in getting back in, and only 40 percent got full-time jobs. “It was distressingly difficult to get back on track,” Hewlett told me. In addition, the women Hewlett surveyed came back to jobs that paid, on average, 16 percent less than those they had before. And about a quarter took jobs with lesser management responsibilities or had to accept a lower job title than the one they had when they left. The impact of those sacrifices, Hewlett noted, was in many cases amplified after the financial meltdown, when 28 percent more of the women she surveyed reported that they had a nonworking spouse at home



  19. Part of the problem, I think, is that women make the decision to stay home based on their current salary, reasoning that most of it is eaten up by daycare costs. What they don’t realize is that, depending on their field and career prospects, their salary may well rise much faster than the daycare costs. I have friends who stayed in the workforce, paying out most of their salaries for daycare at first. However at a certain point their salaries went up and they were able to have a net gain; a few years later, and their kids were in school and increasingly able to be independent — and the moms’ salaries were still going up. Looking at the daycare / salary tradeoff as a static equivalence ignores the fact that it won’t always be that way at all.


  20. not to quibble, (or technically, to quibble with your quibble) but, “found jobs easily after extended periods at home” = “have no problem getting back into the labor market”

    Doesn’t say anything about status changes or salary changes. But being able to find a job at all is important (even if it only makes 100K when one is used to bringing in 500K, as in her example). They’re not going to be going on foodstamps in the event of a divorce.

    I am familiar with Hewlett’s work (among many others not quoted in the story– there are textbooks). The Warner article, which I did read carefully, also chronicles several women who fall into that Hewlett category who *don’t* easily slide into the labor force, because they’re just upper middle class, not super well-connected. That’s why I said it was good that Warner made the distinction between the 1% and just the upper middle class.

    But even Hewlett’s work on the highly educated is missing the majority of women, and although Warner says the decision to stay at home vs work isn’t an existential choice for most of them (which is good that she acknowledges that), many of them are making the *wrong* financial decision because they don’t figure in the present discounted value of their future earnings. Instead they make the point-in-time comparison and stay at home. That puts them into the “mommy track” literature, into a series of jobs rather than into a career with increasing human capital and salaries. (And again, there are details about type of career and so on– some are more forgiving about returning to the career path than others.)

    There are very few economics articles on highly educated women– by Hewlett and by Goldin, one on highly educated couples by Costa and Kahn. There are hundreds if not thousands of articles on the rest of the women in the labor force. The numbers seem to be reversed in the media, or at least in the NYTimes. But that’s their audience, I guess.


  21. When I read it I was deeply aware of how privileged most women were. And that the one who had the greatest difficulty getting back into the workforce was African-american.

    The real problem was the “opting-out” was a rational solution to the life choices they faced, because of the family-unfriendly policies of corporations. Not necessarily the wisest decision, but not an irrational one.


  22. Not irrational, maybe, but for very high earning women it’s a lot less rational than for women who make a lot less $$$. But as Squadrato points out, the number of years most people must pay for day care is pretty small, and the earning curve may rise steeply in some professions once one has been at it 15 years or so. Quitting because you’re barely covering day care costs is so unbelieveably short-sighted that I think for some people it’s a dodge to cover for other reasons to quit a job. (Then again, when one has babies and toddlers, one is kind of brain-damaged and sleep deprived so emotionally it might feel like it will go on forever. . .)

    nicoleandmaggie’s post on this is very thorough, although reading through it all it seems to me that they’re really counseling the reader to “lean in” rather than “opt-out!” (At least, that seems to me the inescapable conclusion, unless one has an inheritance or a very high-earning spouse and is in a very stable relationship.)


  23. n.b. go read Bardiac’s take. She has a great line that kind of sums my frustration with the whole “opt-out” thing up for me:

    I’m sort of despairing here because the women the article talks about were/are way privileged; they sound like they all had college educations, and they all went to college when feminism was important on college campuses. They all had job opportunities beyond what most people have.

    And yet they thought they could use the social structures that feminists in the 60s and 70s had critiqued as disempowering women without being subject to disempowerment.

    Did they miss the most basic Marxist base/superstructure discussion? (Yes, of course there are problems with that idea, but it seems at play here, doesn’t it? Reproduce the economic structure of the 1950s middle class household, and you reproduce the social structure, too.)


  24. My observation – FWIW – is that the time between when kids go to school and mid-teens is actually much more stressful on families than are the early years. Kids are doing more things (soccer, dance, swim, music, whatever) and it’s all late afternoon. What’s intriguing to me is that most of the women Warner talks to moved out of the workforce not when they had little ones who could be cared for by nannies, but when the kids were older.

    Bardiac is right, of course, that what happened was predictable (hey, we all predicted it). But I think the real lesson is that for women for whom everything had always worked, they couldn’t imagine that it wouldn’t continue to do so. Which is why the somewhat bemused reaction when it doesn’t. So they were dumb, but not stupid, if that makes any sense.

    There is also the interesting bit that none of them want to go back to the “high flyer” jobs that they had before. Once you stop, you realize that is not the life you want to lead.


  25. Either that, or that’s the story they tell themselves! (That they don’t *want* the high-pressure, high-rewards jobs any more.) I would imagine that there are some who probably would kill to re-enter their professions where they left them, esp. if they really need the money.

    There gets to be a “breakthrough” point in most professional careers in which, after years of very hard work, it gets easier because you’ve reached a particular career stage, and/or you have subordinates to do the really time-consuming stuff and you can shape the job to your preferences and talents. I don’t want to say “coasting,” but I think most jobs get easier the better you get at them and the more you rise through the ranks.


  26. Yeah, what Bardiac said, but I’d like to focus on this from the article:

    These jobs generally paid less than their previous careers and were less prestigious. But the women found the work more interesting, socially conscious and family-friendly than their old high-powered positions.

    This may be the opt-back-inners saving face, rationalizing, or genuinely meaning what they say but this barf-inducing trope is wrong in so many ways. Why are “prestigious” and “socially conscious” exclusive categories? Ditto high powered? Why is “interesting” a substitute for either of those? I’m reasonably sure that Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Warren Buffet, Bill Clinton, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, George Soros, etc. etc. etc. all find their powerful positions plenty interesting. That these fake tradeoffs are cast as positive for women only serves to makes it worse.

    I actually feel sympathy for the (privileged indeed) women in that article. They are caught in the same stupid net as the rest of us, it’s just been rewoven a bit to suit their socioeconomic class. So I learn yet again that sadly, no if you are a lady you can’t “have it all.” Well f*ck that, “have it all” is not a real thing, it’s a bludgeon used to keep yet another class of women down.

    And with regard to the land where all the young couples are totally equal in every way, I want me some of that fantasy land. Well, no, actually I don’t.


  27. Pingback: Opting | Reassigned Time 2.0

  28. How would men do yoyoing out and in? May be a little better, but not too well, I believe.

    Indeed, it would make them too lady-like.


  29. @koshembos
    Men with extended absences from the labor market tend to do worse than women. (The evidence isn’t perfect– no audit studies yet to my knowledge.) The theory is that employers believe they have been in jail.


  30. truffula wrote: “That these fake tradeoffs are cast as positive for women only serves to makes it worse.”

    YES! Funny how money and power are always interesting enough for men’s careers.


  31. Ugh, the article really pissed me off. The men (most of whom come across as total douches) get a real pass — “All this would be easier if you didn’t work.” When does a woman ever (get to) say that to her husband? Why wouldn’t it be easier if *he* didn’t work (when she’s making a cool 1/2 mill, it’s not as if they couldn’t survive on that salary. Why is his more important? Sure childcare is expensive but these aren’t families struggling to make ends meet, and still it’s the women’s responsibility to handle the children, the food, the laundry, the household.

    And beyond the individual consequences (as one woman learned, work contributes to self-worth and self-esteem), there are the societal consequences. As mentioned above, what do the kids think? What’s being modeled in these homes? But also, studies have shown that male bosses whose wives stay at home are less likely to promote women whereas male bosses whose wives work promote men and women more equally. It’s not just about what works for one family, which is how these decisions are so often cast; there are social, economic, and political ramifications to these “private” decisions (causes too).


  32. Men with extended absences

    The newspaper article I linked above is about research regarding the “stigma of workplace flexibility,” including consequences to men of taking family leave from work. A couple of quotes:

    men who seek work flexibility may be penalized more severely than women, because they’re viewed as more feminine, deviating from their traditional role of fully committed breadwinners.

    They also looked at how the perception of women using flexible arrangements differs across class lines: affluent women often receive the message that they should stay at home, while poor women are more likely to hear that they shouldn’t have had children to begin with.

    and finally,

    “If you have a very extensive network of these family-friendly programs, it can encourage women to take a more traditional role,” Professor Blau said. “It’s an issue of balance. If you don’t have adequate arrangements, then it’s very hard for women to maintain their attachment to the labor force and for employers to invest in the women’s skills.”

    I can’t tell if this last is meant to imply that family friendly programs are beneficial or not. The whole topic is so steeped in daddy-mommy-kiddies thinking that it makes me feel as if my head will explode. The best approach is to stop trying to fix something that is broken way down deep inside and just get on to the revolution. That some privileged people might be able to live happy, totally equal in every way lives in the midst of disaster is cold comfort.


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  34. @truffula
    We don’t really know if “family-friendly” programs help or hurt women. We know that they mommy-track and stall careers of some women, but we don’t know if they keep women in the labor force who would have otherwise dropped out. (Also, I suspect their effects might be different in say, the SF bay area where everyone takes advantage of them and employers have to offer them to keep talent as opposed to places in which the employer has more power. We know that Sweden’s mandatory paternal leave has helped women in the labor market.) Hence the ambivalence.

    Francine Blau is the author of one of the textbooks on women in the labor market. It’s a great read.


  35. I should have written that it is not clear to me if “encourage women to take a more traditional role” is understood to be a good thing or not.


  36. Thanks, Trisha: I saw that Slate article this morning, too.

    It’s interesting that I read this now, as I just watched Michael Apted’s 56 Up, his movie series in which he has interviewed the same people every 7 years from age 7 to 56 (so far). There were many lessons in the movie, one of which was the power of money to stabilize marriage/heterosexuality, and/or the power of marriage/heterosexuality in a capitalist economy. None of the wealthy toffs have been divorced. Two of the working-class women have divorced, but one has had a stable partnership for the past 14 years. A working-class man was divorced but his life was stabilized at least in part by his second marriage. Only one of the working-class women divorcees was economically fragile. In short, marriage appears to have shored up and stabilized the economic fortunes of those who remain married or successfully remarried.

    People seem happy with their lives for the most part, but it seemed to me that the working-class families were doing a lot of caretaking still of their children (and grandchildren). Their children appear to be having a much more difficult time establishing themselves professionally.

    More relevant to this conversation, perhaps, is the fact that “opting out” is something that none of the working-class women appeared to have done. (The only upper-class woman, Susan, never opted out because she never opted in: she attended a secretarial school rather than university, and appears never to have been in the paid workforce either before or after marriage and children.) Two actually have made professional or para-professional careers for themselves, one as a librarian, and the other as an administrator at the UCL law school.


  37. Slate article is ignoring that women’s economic class is somewhat fluid and depends quite a bit on their marital situation (on average). Are they divorced because they’re working class or working class because they’re divorced? Ananat and Michaels finds that after a divorce, half of women are much worse off and half of them are much better off, generally because they remarry someone who is better than their first husbands.


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