Women Who Opt Out
The Debate over Working Mothers and Work-Family Balance
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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I first became interested in this topic of “opting out” upon reading Lisa Belkin’s October 2003 New York Times journalistic essay, “The Opt-Out Revolution.” It was my first semester at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Department of Legal Studies and I had recently finished a postdoctoral...
Part I. “Opting Out”: Women’s History and Feminist Legal Theory
Introduction: Women, Work, and Motherhood in American History
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When Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963, she pulled a veil off the “merry homemaker” image ascribed to American women of the postwar era (Tyler May, 1988; Coontz, 2011). It was the problem that had “no name,” women who asked whether being a mother and housewife was all...
Part II. Is “Opting Out” for Real?
1. The Rhetoric and Reality of “Opting Out”: Toward a Better Understanding of Professional Women’s Decisions to Head Home
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Since the Industrial Revolution, when economic production moved out of the home, women have struggled to reconcile the roles, responsibilities, and day-to-day activities of productive and reproductive labor. They have used a variety of strategies, the parameters of which have been defined by their class...
2. The Real “Opt-Out Revolution” and a New Model of Flexible Careers
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In recent years, there has been a great deal of discussion about the “optout revolution”—the notion that educated, professional women with small children choose to leave the workplace to focus on their families instead of their careers (Belkin, 2003). The basic thesis of the opt-out revolution has...
Part III. Can All Women “Opt In” before They “Opt Out”?
3. “Opting In” to Full Labor Force Participation in Hourly Jobs
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Rather than “opting out” or even being “pushed out,” women in low-level, hourly jobs are often “kept out” of full labor force participation. The practices employers use to contain labor costs in hourly jobs often serve to undermine women’s prospects for sustained employment and adequate...
4. The Challenges to and Consequences of “Opting Out” for Low-Wage, New Mothers
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The idea of women “opting out” of paid employment to stay at home and care for children has been a topic of hot debate in both the public media and among academics who study women’s employment patterns (Belkin, 2003). In her provocative book Opting Out: Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home, Stone (2007) demonstrates...
5. The Future of Family Caregiving: The Value of Work-Family Strategies That Benefit Both Care Consumers and Paid Care Workers
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When higher-income women “opt in” for full-time employment, they are in a position to contract out some share of their responsibilities in the home to lower-income women who then provide these services. This traditional model of redistributing care work frequently presumes that only child care responsibilities...
6. Care Work and Women’s Employment: A Comparative Perspective
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This chapter examines the similarities among industrialized nations in the demand for care work (child care, elder care, care for the disabled, etc.) as the result of women’s rising employment rates, and the differences international policy impose upon outcomes: who provides care, where, and how they are...
Part IV. Conclusion
7. The Opt-Out Revolution Revisited
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The media tends to cover work/family conflict as the story of highly educated professional mothers “opting out” of fast-track careers in the face of inflexible career paths and very long workweeks, ignoring the experiences of working- and middle-class women. Given that less than 8% of U.S. women hold...
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About the Contributors
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Publication Year: 2012