The Opt-Out Discussion is Back In

archibaldhouseworkThis week’s New York Times Magazine revisits the so-called opt-out revolution that Lisa Belkin wrote about in 2003. Judith Warner looks at the lives of several highly educated women who left their careers a decade ago and shares their struggles in trying to return to work.

In reopening the conversation, Warner reignites the discussion about whether women choose to leave work or are pushed out. Do the women women who quit or scale back move toward parenting and home life or do they move away from unfulfilling corporate culture, inherent biases and impossible work life schedules?

I was pleased to see some discussion about housework in Warner’s article. One woman who “opted-out” of a  job at a large technology company recalls her husband saying to her, “All this would be easier if you didn’t work.’ According to the Times article, “She quit her job, trading in a life of business meetings, client dinners and commissions for homework help, a ‘dream house’ renovation and a third pregnancy.” she said, “I really thought it was what I had to do to save my marriage.”

Responsibilities at home are definitely part of the opt-out equation. Women do an average of 30 percent more housework and childcare than men, regardless of work status. And this housework gap affects the gender gap at work. Especially in today’s economy, women, their spouses, and their employers need to work together to strike a manageable work life balance for families so that both or either partner can contribute at work and at home.

My favorite part of Warner’s article is this sentence, “At a time when fewer families than ever can afford to live on less than two full-time salaries, achieving work-life balance may well be less a gender issue than an economic one.”

I will have more to say about the opt-out discussion on The Huffington Post this weekend. I also recommend this article by Bryce Covert that looks at the impact of opting-out on men and the clip below of Lisa Belkin and Lesley Stahl discussing Warner’s article.

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9 comments for “The Opt-Out Discussion is Back In

  1. August 9, 2013 at 11:09 am

    A few generations before the opt out generation that now wants back in were the Real Housewives of the Cold War.

    The mid-century housewife knew in her heart – because all the magazines confirmed it to be so- that love, marriage and children was The career for women. My own mother Betty would follow in the footsteps of another Betty, Betty Crocker, seemingly satisfied in her role as housewife and mother. But in the fall of 1960 another magazine article appeared in Good Housekeeping questioning the role of women. It wouldn’t be until 1963 when the article’s author Betty Friedan’s book the Feminine Mystique appeared.The problem that had no name was so unfathomable to many homemakers at the time no one even thought they had a problem. It was buried as deeply as our missiles underground and would cause the same explosion when they were released. For a look at the real housewives of the Cold War visit

    • August 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks for the link Sally. The housework gap is still mostly out of sight and with no name. We need to talk about it.

  2. August 9, 2013 at 11:44 am

    I just wrote about this article this morning. (What can I say? I can’t stay away from this topic….) I can’t believe that it’s been so long since the Warner article was written, and I too was encouraged and discouraged by the reopening of the discussion. For me, the big different is that now this topic is so intensely personal, whereas before it was theoretical, public discussion.

    • August 12, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      Jessica, I love what you wrote at “This is what I want: my own career identity, without being crushed by professional demands. To contribute to my family financially. To share equally with my husband in the emotional and physical work of raising a child. To experience professional fulfillment and to know that I am using my talents and education. To have small daily moments with my son — reading our favorite books together on the couch, walking hand in hand to our neighborhood park, stopping to play with the train table in the library.” Is it attainable?

      • Pat Riarchy
        October 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm

        Of course it’s attainable. But it depends on your definition of “cruched by professional demands. Men do it all the time. In fact, most men not only support themselves and their own children but also an unproductive adult female. So if men can do all this why would a female be too pathetic to do it?

  3. August 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    I never had the option of choosing WHETHER to work, when I became a mother; my choices were all about how/where I would work.

    There is definitely the “mommy track” factor in making job choices for most mothers. Job X offered more money and better benefits but was farther away and the hours were inflexible. Job Y offered less money, NO benefits, but would be willing to offer flex hours around school functions and sports, and was closer to school and home, which meant less commuting time and wear-and-tear on the car.

    Sometimes I wonder where I would be financially if I hadn’t mommy-tracked for so many years. On the other hand, I don’t regret for a moment making all the graduation ceremonies and the hours spent in the bleachers watching him play sports. In an ideal world, of course, mothers wouldn’t have to choose. It never seemed to hurt the careers of fathers that they took off to coach sports, but since I’m not privy to all those household budgets, maybe I am mistaken. Has there every been a study done on that?

    • August 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      Beverly, good point. I’m blogging tonight about a study that shows senior-level men are granted more flex than senior-level women.

  4. August 12, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Thank you for the articles and the recommendations. Agree with Jessica Smock and “For me, the big different is that now this topic is so intensely personal, whereas before it was theoretical, public discussion.”


    • August 12, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      YEs that was an excellent point about how personal these decisions are. It’s hard to think about all women when you’re one woman trying to get it all done.

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