Women Opting Out Of Work

Opting out is a term most commonly understood to describe the decision of married women to voluntarily quit professional careers and remain out of the labor force for a relatively extended period of time during which they are engaged in family care giving, primarily motherhood, to the exclusion of paid employment. Women use a variety of strategies to reconcile work and family responsibilities, including time out of the labor force, opting out, by virtue of the attention given it by the media, has assumed special prominence and a distinct identity. The novelty of opting out is that the women said to be returning home to re-create the traditional family form of male breadwinners are, unlike the stay-at-home mothers of the 1950s, seasoned professionals with considerable career success who are making their decisions in an historical context that affords them a wider range of options than were available to earlier generations of women, even privileged women. Employment, when anticipated at all after marriage, was regarded as short-term and secondary. In the 1970s, educated women made a break with the past and began, in significant numbers, to combine sustained employment with motherhood. Opting out is the ability to exercise this option which is typically open only to women with a male partner whose earnings can offset the loss of their own. (Stone, 2007a)

Some women have resorted to opting out of work because they are not satisfied with their careers. They are not “choosing” to quit but rather are unable to continue, pushed out by the conditions of their jobs rather than pulled home by their children. Highly educated, elite professional women get tired of the demands of work, do not like the effects on their family lives, and opt out of the fast professional tracks of law, business, and journalism to take care of their children. Some of these women are full-time mothers; others work part-time, typically at less demanding jobs. Not all elite professional women are opting out by any means. How much of women’s decision to stay home is a choice, and how much is the result of inflexible and hostile workplaces. Suffice it to say here that the ideology of intensive mothering, combined with the rising demands of workplaces and lack of public support for children’s welfare (e.g., healthcare, daycare, maternity and paternity leave) create severe difficulties for many mothers, privileged and otherwise. (Belkin, 2003, October 26.) Their children are pure, innocent and helpless and need a selfless nurturer who will shelter them from the corrosive outside world, either by providing care herself or ensuring that alternative (although inevitably second-best) care is provided. The mother/child bond is uniquely tight, and lasting, and essential to a child’s healthy psychological development and only a mother (not a father, other family member, or paid caretaker) can provide this care. Mothers are responsible for “nurturing, listening, responding, explaining, negotiating, distracting, and searching for appropriate alternative care,” practices which are “so labor-intensive, so time-consuming, so energy-absorbing” because mothers “understand themselves as largely responsible for the way their children turn out”. Children seem happier, more rested and childlike. They get along better with siblings, and are quite creative in their uses of free time. (Hays, 1996, p. 120) Professionals who had quit their jobs and were stay-at-home mothers -opted out, as conventionally understood -which found that the large majority of these women were highly conflicted about their decision, Further challenging the prevailing explanation that their decision was primarily about motherhood. (Stone, 2007a)

Because of the high cost of living, life becomes expensive thus making women to look for work to support the demands of their families. Middle-class women can’t afford to quit their jobs without scaling back considerably. The families of working class parents are believed to flourish with large amounts of unscheduled time, and adult intervention in their activities is not considered a worthwhile use of anyone’s time. Poor and working-class parents use fewer words with their children, and although children prove quite capable of expressing opinions, adults do not actively cultivate this ability, nor do they cultivate the questioning of authorities and negotiation. Finally, discipline is a matter of rules and sometimes physical force, not reason. As a result, poor and working-class children find themselves disadvantaged vis a vis their middle-class peers, and privilege is passed down. Mothers who work full-time, for instance, often defend this choice as “better for the child in the long-run. Also importantly, mothers are held responsible by others for their children’s well-being, which means that choosing not to adopt tenets of this ideology requires a defense – which is often made in terms of the ideology itself. The accomplishment of natural growth does not, however, mesh as neatly with the procedures and expectations of schools and the workplace as does concerted cultivation, which encourages children to engage in many time management and linguistic practices that institutions expect and reward. (Lareau, 2003) Women do not quit their careers because of a preference to stay home with their children. Some professions might be more or less conducive to women’s persistence suggests that there are lessons to be learned from certain fields that might be usefully applied to others, especially the corporate sector. Although virtually all of the women in the sample were happy to have more time to spend with their children, most still identified with their professions and intended to return to work at some point in the future, although their plans are uncertain. Having a job, especially a fulfilling professional career, is more interesting than housework and child-rearing. Men don’t want housewives, Some men fantasize about having a woman running their home and doing not much more, sure. But nowadays, a lot of men prefer to marry more independent women, and would find the idea of supporting a wife intimidating. Women with children are found to have lower full-time, year-round labor force participation rates overall than male graduates or women without children, but those with advanced degrees showed a strong commitment to their careers by returning to work after only brief absences following childbirth (Stone, 2007a)

I would agree with Ann Crittenden the Author of “The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is still the Least Valued”. This is because she portrays women as the good mother, the wise mother . . . is more important to the community than even the ablest man; her career is more worthy of honor and is more useful to the community than the career of any man, no matter how successful. A mother’s work is not just invisible; it can become a handicap. Raising children may be the most important job in the world, but you can’t put it on a résumé. The idea that time spent with one’s child is time wasted is embedded in traditional economic thinking. People who are not formally employed may create human capital, but they themselves are said to suffer a deterioration of the stuff, as if they were so many pieces of equipment left out to rust. Inflexible workplaces guarantee that many women will have to cut back on, if not quit, their employment once they have children. The result is a loss of income that produces a bigger wage gap between mothers and childless women than the wage gap between young men and women. The very definition of a mother is selfless service to another. We don’t owe Mother for her gifts; she owes us. And in return for her bounty, Mother receives no lack of veneration. Crittenden proves homemakers are essential to the economic and political success of our country and its inhabitants. She also emphasizes the contributions of the large number of educated women who have chosen to stay home and raise children.(Crittenden, February 2001)

“Opting out” is a luxury unavailable to most women and only applicable to those with high earnings/savings or wealthy partners; professional women with the option to opt out might take it because they are not given flexible options to stay in their professional jobs and parent; women in all job sectors are more affected by the recession, especially in jobs like finance where a male-dominated environment might lead to high-ranking women being axed because of the perception they aren’t tough enough; women with the ability to pretend they weren’t forced out of their jobs might do so by claiming they chose not to work to stay home and parent–such women are not included in unemployment numbers or given the attendant benefits of unemployment; and the new frontier might be the “flexibility stigma.” The only way to get rid of the “flexibility stigma” is to embrace a culture where professional men and women each take off work in equal measure to care for children or attend to household tasks. Then, we might in a world where there is a “parent stigma” but at least it won’t be borne solely by women. (Leonhard, 2010, August.)


Because it does not conform to the standard conception of a profession, motherhood might seem to have no place in this issue. A woman requires no special expertise, no knowledge, skill or educational degree to become a mother. Furthermore, the work she does as a mother is unpaid, sometimes even unrecognized as work. These two features of motherood – its accessibility to any fertile girl or woman, and the fact that society provides no financial compensation to mothers for their hard work–are often lamented, though towards very different political ends. In fact, motherhood might be considered the very opposite of a profession: a status dependent upon biological, cultural and social factors, not educational ones, and involving labor done without pay or recognized steps to advancement.