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

By Karine Moe; Dianna Shandy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The 100-Hour Couple

The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.
OLD PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH ADAGE

One of the most intriguing explanations for why women leave the workforce or reorient their careers is the phenomenon of the 100-hour couple. Valerie’s story gives us some insight into how these tough decisions play out among high-achieving couples. Valerie was an English and political science double major in college. A child of a widowed mother who single-handedly supported and raised five children, Valerie attended a state university and worked her way through college. She went on to attend law school and to work as a corporate attorney. Eventually, she married an attorney, Richard, who worked in banking. By the time they had their second child, their careers were at a zenith, with Valerie and her husband each working an average of seventy hours per week. To cover the seventy hours of child care, they hired a full-time, live-in nanny and a parttime nanny. When they discovered they needed yet a third nanny because work obligations increasingly spilled into evenings and weekends, they decided to reevaluate their situation. They concluded that one of them had to reduce hours at work or quit his or her job altogether. They recognized that they could live on either Valerie’s or Richard’s salary alone, although his income was significantly larger than hers. Therefore, for financial as well as for other less tangible reasons that could not be tallied on a spreadsheet, Valerie decided to leave her job and to stay home with their children.

Valerie’s case illustrates some key points. Over the past decades, women’s educational qualifications have risen. Similarly, their

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