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

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When significant numbers of college-educated American women began, in the early twenty-first century, to leave paid work to become stay-at-home mothers, an emotionally charged national debate erupted. Karine Moe and Dianna Shandy, a professional economist and an anthropologist, respectively, decided to step back from the sometimes overheated rhetoric around the so-called mommy wars. They wondered what really inspired women to opt out, and they wanted to gauge the phenomenon’s genuine repercussions. Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples is the fruit of their investigation—a rigorous, accessible, and sympathetic reckoning with this hot-button issue in contemporary life.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews from around the country, original survey research, and national labor force data, Moe and Shandy refocus the discussion of women who opt out from one where they are the object of scrutiny to one where their aspirations and struggles tell us about the far broader swath of American women who continue to juggle paid work and family. Moe and Shandy examine the many pressures that influence a woman’s decision to resign, reduce, or reorient her career. These include the mismatch between child-care options and workplace demands, the fact that these women married men with demanding careers, the professionalization of stay-at-home motherhood, and broad failures in public policy. But Moe and Shandy are equally attentive to the resilience of women in the face of life decisions that might otherwise threaten their sense of self-worth. Moe and Shandy find, for instance, that women who have downsized their careers stress the value of social networks—of “running with a pack of smart women” who’ve also chosen to emphasize motherhood over paid work.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Liberally used economic statistics describe financial sacrifices, potential marital shifts in power and ways to avoid the automatic social invisibility conferred on stay-at-home mothers, while well-placed anecdotes from study subjects weigh flexibility and quality of life for family members. . . .This objective analysis provides a calmly informative, readable tool, useful for any couple considering children."—Publishers Weekly

"An economist and an anthropologist teamed up to conduct hundreds of interviews for this insightful analysis of the ramifications of stepping off the career track to focus on motherhood. The authors bolster their conclusions with a dazzling (and sometimes daunting) collection of statistics as well as thorough end notes and an impressive bibliography. Their scholarship is balanced by numerous personal stories that elevate the study beyond the miasma of the mommy wars."—Booklist

"Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples discusses the choices that college-educated women face in balancing family and career, with a particular focus on why a significant share of well-educated women elect to leave the labor market entirely. The book is well-written and engaging reading. It has a nice combination of data and stories, showing the barriers that women continue to face in trying to be both good parents and good employees. Anyone interested in women’s changing patterns of work/family choices will find this book worth reading."—Rebecca M. Blank, author of It Takes a Nation: A New Agenda for Fighting Poverty

"This insightful and wide-ranging analysis of the work-family choices of college-educated women in America will appeal to everyone who has tried (and inevitably failed) to be both the ideal worker and the perfect parent. The authors, an economist and an anthropologist, combine current research and in-depth interviews to examine the experiences of mothers who decide to 'opt out' of the hectic life of a two-career couple, and the cultural and economic forces that shape their choices."—Shelly Lundberg, Castor Professor of Economics, University of Washington

"This provocative book raises many questions but does not stoop to providing pat answers about how couples should manage the work-family balance." —Choice magazine

"Moe and Shandy have written a comprehensive account of the many reasons behind the 'opt-out revolution.' Their engaging presentation makes for a fascinating read—one that will be of interest to anyone who feels the disconnect between the current state of work/life balance in this country, and the possibilities that exist for something so much better."—Elrena Evans, coeditor of Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life

Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples is an important contribution to the literature. The book provides new insights into the labor force decisions of working mothers and will be of great use to any reader interested – academically or personally – in the debate surrounding work–life balance in the United States.”—Lucie Schmidt, Feminist Economics

Publishers Weekly
Over the past 15 years, many highly educated, middle-class women have—whether by inclination or necessity—traded their 50-plus–hour workweeks and considerable paychecks to stay home with their children and enjoy a “saner, less hectic life.” Economist Moe and anthropologist Shandy, both of Macalester College, dispassionately dissect the statistics and motivations behind “opting out” to determine whether this recent, still narrow trend denotes a “bellwether,” a “fin-de-siècle folly” or just a blip on the cultural radar. The authors also demonstrate how these women differ from the 1950s housewife stereotype. Liberally used economic statistics describe financial sacrifices, potential marital shifts in power and ways to avoid the automatic social invisibility conferred on stay-at-home mothers, while well-placed anecdotes from study subjects weigh flexibility and quality of life for family members. There's no discussion of how recession-proof this trend will be, but this objective analysis provides a calmly informative, readable tool, useful for any couple considering children. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820331546
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2009
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Karine Moe is a professor of economics at Macalester College. She is the editor of Women, Family, and Work: Writings on the Economics of Gender. Dianna Shandy is an associate professor of anthropology at Macalester College. She is the author of Nuer-American Passages: Globalizing Sudanese Migration.
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Table of Contents

Prologue ix
Acknowledgments xiii

introduction 1
one. Numbers Too Big to Ignore 11
two. Why Opting Out Is an Everywoman Issue 2
three. The 100- Hour Couple 35
four. Glass Ceilings and Maternal Walls 45
five. Second Shift Redux 61
six. Child Care Dilemmas 72
seven. Mama Time 83
eight. The Hectic Household 97
nine. The Professionalization of At- Home Motherhood 114
ten. Financial Costs 127
eleven. Negotiating without a Paycheck 139
twelve. Reigniting the Career 149
thirteen. Creative Strategies for Making Work “Work” 163
fourteen. Coming of Age in America 173

Notes 183
Bibliography 197
Index 209

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