Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger

Opting Out?

Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home

Pamela Stone (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 314 pages
ISBN: 9780520256576
May 2007
$26.95, £21.00
Other Formats Available:
Noting a phenomenon that might seem to recall a previous era, The New York Times Magazine recently portrayed women who leave their careers in order to become full-time mothers as “opting out.” But, are high-achieving professional women really choosing to abandon their careers in order to return home? This provocative study is the first to tackle this issue from the perspective of the women themselves. Based on a series of candid, in-depth interviews with women who returned home after working as doctors, lawyers, bankers, scientists, and other professions, Pamela Stone explores the role that their husbands, children, and coworkers play in their decision; how women’s efforts to construct new lives and new identities unfold once they are home; and where their aspirations and plans for the future lie. What we learn—contrary to many media perceptions—is that these high-flying women are not opting out but are instead being pushed out of the workplace. Drawing on their experiences, Stone outlines concrete ideas for redesigning workplaces to make it easier for women—and men—to attain their goal of living rewarding lives that combine both families and careers.
List of Illustrations

1. The Dream Team
2. Family Matters
3. Home Alone
4. Gilded Cages
5. The Choice Gap
6. Half-Full, Half-Empty
7. Mothers of Re-Invention
8. Cocooning: The Drift to Domesticity
9. Dreams and Visions: Getting There

Appendix: Study Methodology
Pamela Stone is Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York.
“A highly worthwhile book.”—American Journal Of Sociology / AJS
“Fascinating and surprising . . . Stone’s revealing study adds an important counterpoint to Leslie Bennetts’s forthcoming The Feminine Mistake.”—Publishers Weekly
Adds some much-needed substance. Rather than arguing that mothers should or should not stay home, Stone, a sociologist at the City University of New York, describes the complex reasons that 54 women left their high-powered positions after having children and how their lives proceeded from that decision. "Opting Out?" shows how a mix of forces conspired to nudge women out of their careers, despite the fact that most originally intended to stay in them. . . . it's refreshing to read a balanced take on the upsides and downsides to staying home with kids.—Salon
“A deft analysis.”—Phyllis Moen Science (AAAS)
This study is full of surprises, such as the finding that many women feel pushed out of the workplace.—Working Mother
"With insight and compassion, Pamela Stone shows convincingly that, far from representing a return to tradition, the decision of some women to relinquish high-powered careers is a reluctant and conflict-ridden response to the growing mismatch between privatized families and time-demanding jobs. By charting the institutional obstacles and cultural pressures that continue to leave even the most advantaged women facing impossible options, Opting Out? gets beneath the hype and offers the real story behind the misleading headlines. This groundbreaking study is required reading for anyone who cares about the fate of families, work, and gender equality in contemporary America."—Kathleen Gerson, author of Hard Choices: How Women Decide About Work, Career, and Motherhood

"Pamela Stone's Opting Out? is a creative and beautifully written addition to the burgeoning scholarly and popular literature on work and family. Stone gives voice to those elite career women—the 'best and the brightest'—who have returned home to raise their kids. She creatively unpacks these women's 'choices,' describing both the 'pulls' of family life but also the labor market 'pushes.' Opting Out? is a fully nuanced portrait of women (and their husbands) struggling to make important life decisions in a culture that often provides only simplistic zero-sum alternatives: mom or worker, even though most women are already working moms. Women want alternative visions of working motherhood, yet are often stymied by outmoded workplace models (and firms and managers) insensitive to the concerns of working families. Stone's work challenges our organizational leaders and policy makers to do better, for women, but also more generally for working families, workplace organizations, and society as a whole."—Patricia A. Roos, Rutgers University

"Pamela Stone has listened to women with high powered careers now at home with their kids as no one else has. Bringing an open mind and equal parts sympathy and skepticism, coupled with years of training as a social scientist, Stone analyzes the opt out decision and comes to surprising conclusions. Delving beneath the superficial, media-friendly explanations, she finds the real movers in the drama: rising norms of intensive mothering, fathers ensconced in even more demanding and better-paying jobs, and inflexible workplaces that refuse to accommodate reduced hours. Brilliantly written and argued, this book reveals what's really going on in women's minds and corporate America today, and what we can do to make equal opportunity at home and on the job reality rather than rhetoric."—Heidi Hartmann, Institute for Women's Policy Research

"A fascinating, fine-grained look at the real reasons why many professional women with children leave the workplace. Stone's research and her well-written account make it clear that educated mothers aren't opting out; they are being shut out by inflexible employers. Must reading for anyone interested in understanding the 'reality of constraint' behind the 'rhetoric of choice.'"—Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood

"Based on a study, but told through the eloquent stories of women who are at-home mothers, this seminal book goes beyond the myths, misconceptions, and even what is usually said, to reveal very important and compelling truths. Everyone who cares about work and family life in the United States today needs to read this book."—Ellen Galinsky, President, Families and Work Institute, and author of Ask the Children

"A brilliant analysis. With exquisite sensitivity, Stone unpacks the painful process by which most women who 'opt out' feel pushed out by workplace pressures from their own-and their husbands'-all-or-nothing careers. This book offers sophisticated sociology at its accessible best, in the tradition of Arlie Hochschild's pathbreaking work."—Joan Williams, author of Unbending Gender

"'Ladies, start your engines.' This exhortation concludes the illuminating analysis of vibrant, fully realized stories Pamela Stone heard in talking to women who left professional work for full-time home life. Thank you, Pamela Stone, for producing new knowledge that both individuals and business policy-makers will find essential in creating the conditions that will enable business professionals to meet this profound social and economic challenge."—Stewart Friedman, Director, Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, University of Pennsylvania

William J. Goode Best Book Length Contribution to Family Sociology Award, American Sociological Association

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more