Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples: What the Opt-out Phenomenon Can Teach Us about Work and Family

Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples: What the Opt-out Phenomenon Can Teach Us about Work and Family

Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples: What the Opt-out Phenomenon Can Teach Us about Work and Family

Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples: What the Opt-out Phenomenon Can Teach Us about Work and Family

Synopsis

When significant numbers of college-educated American women began, in the early twenty-first century, to leave paid work to become stay-at-home mothers, an emotionally charged national debate erupted. Karine Moe and Dianna Shandy, a professional economist and an anthropologist, respectively, decided to step back from the sometimes overheated rhetoric around the so-called mommy wars. They wondered what really inspired women to opt out, and they wanted to gauge the phenomenon's genuine repercussions. Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples is the fruit of their investigation-a rigorous, accessible, and sympathetic reckoning with this hot-button issue in contemporary life.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews from around the country, original survey research, and national labor force data, Moe and Shandy refocus the discussion of women who opt out from one where they are the object of scrutiny to one where their aspirations and struggles tell us about the far broader swath of American women who continue to juggle paid work and family. Moe and Shandy examine the many pressures that influence a woman's decision to resign, reduce, or reorient her career. These include the mismatch between child-care options and workplace demands, the fact that these women married men with demanding careers, the professionalization of stay-at-home motherhood, and broad failures in public policy. But Moe and Shandy are equally attentive to the resilience of women in the face of life decisions that might otherwise threaten their sense of self-worth. Moe and Shandy find, for instance, that women who have downsized their careers stress the value of social networks-of "running with a pack of smart women" who've also chosen to emphasize motherhood over paid work.

Excerpt

We traded our twenties for doctorates and our thirties for elusive tenure-track jobs. in and amongst school and work, we both married professionals and had kids, albeit on different timelines. An occasional perk of our jobs is that we are eligible for what is known as an academic sabbatical. It’s an admittedly generous perk, and on good days we agree that our twenties were a fair swap for these blocks of time away from our ordinary teaching and administrative responsibilities. During these breaks, we embark on research and writing projects, rejuvenate, and try to impose order on the parts of our lives that fall into disarray when we’re working full-time, as they are wont to do in households with kids where both parents work. Yet the best part of these sabbaticals is that we have a lot more time to spend at home and with our friends and families. For a little while, we “working moms” get a chance to live more or less like “at-home moms.” and this, of course, gives us occasion to reflect on just how whatever it is one has to do usually expands to fill the allotted space, and soon we find ourselves up to our ears in all the many activities that keep at-home moms busy and schools and communities humming along.

It was during one of these at-home-mom impersonation stints that we reflected on what we were getting versus what were we giving up in our choices about career and kids. Snuggling in bed at night with the kids reading stories felt really good. Excavating piles of debris to reveal the tabletop below was a quick high (and we knew there was plenty more where that came from). the oohs and aahs at Thanksgiving dinner for the cornucopia wrought from breadsticks were powerfully and surprisingly gratifying. (Thanks . . .

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