Opt Out: Media Trend or Statisticly Valid Phenomenon?

by Erin McCune on January 4, 2006

in Women Professionals

Any reader of this blog knows that I am a strong supporter of providing options for professional women who want to have it all – a rewarding career AND a satisfying family life. Forte Financial actively recruits talented mid-career women, offering a flexible career path that enables them to raise children, care for elderly parents, or pursue other endeavors. (There are a number of men who are also interested in this level of flexibility — particularly those who are nearing traditional retirement age and want to scale back their work life, yet remain in the game.)

Today the SF Chronicle features an article debating the legitimacy of the "opt-out" trend where more and more women are leaving high powered jobs to tend to their children and family lives. The story was promoted by Maureen Dowd's recent book "Are Men Necessary?" as well as media coverage over the last two years lamenting the sacrifices women make for their careers, and their choices to no longer make those sacrifices.

The article contrasts the "splashy, scary trend" stories based on small samples and anecdotal evidence with more subtle, conflicting conclusions based on larger, statistically valid longitudinal studies and bureau of labor data indicating that the number of highly paid professional women has remained steady over the years. (Citation for articles and studies on both sides of the debate are listed below.)

From my perspective the issue is simply that most women do not have the economic means to give up their career. They are frustrated with their traditional jobs yet they do not have viable alternatives.

The "opt-out" trend has merit – the anxiety is palpable. Yet there is also a promising related trend: the growing number of women entrepreneurs that are forging their own professional path.

The Opt-Out Trend

"The Opt-Out Revolution" by Lisa Belkin
NYTimes Sunday Magazine, October 26, 2003

Maureen Dowd's book Are Men Necessary
Available from Amazon.com or excerpted in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine October 30, 2005

"The Case for Staying Home"
Time Magazine
March 2004

The Counter Argument

"Are Women Opting Out? Debunking the Myth" by Heather Boushey
Center for Economic Policy, November 30, 2005 (revised December 2005)

"Clueless in Manhattan" by Joan Walsh
Salon.com October 27, 2003
Rebuttal to the New York Times opt-out piece

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