In a much-publicized and much-criticized 2003 New York Times article, “The Opt-Out Revolution,” the journalist Lisa Belkin made the controversial argument that highly educated women who enter the workplace tend to leave upon marrying and having children.
To further this discussion, the UMass Amherst Center for Research on Families (CRF) held a national conference in 2008 entitled “Women and Work: Choices and Constraints” featuring prominent experts in the field who came together to consider the challenges women face in the 21st century workplace. Presenters included Ellen Galinsky, Susan J. Lambert, Peggy R. Smith, Pamela Stone, Joan C. Williams, and UMass professors and CRF Affiliates Joya Misra, Maureen Perry-Jenkins, Nancy Folbre, Michelle Budig, Naomi Gerstel and Eve Weinbaum. The conference was organized by Dr. Bernie D. Jones, formally from UMass and now professor at the Suffolk University Law School.
Now, as a result of that informative event, a new collection of original essays by leading scholars in the field of work and family research, has been produced: Women Who Opt Out, edited by Dr. Bernie Jones. The book takes a multi-disciplinary approach in questioning the basic thesis of “the opt-out revolution.”
The contributors illustrate that the desire to balance both work and family demands continues to be a point of unresolved concern for families and employers alike. Contributor Joya Misra, professor of sociology at UMass and CRF affiliate, says, “People are still really taken with the idea that gender inequality in the workplace is about women's preferences for staying at home. I think our volume dispels that -- and makes it clear that women's employment decisions are much more complicated!” For example, Maureen Perry-Jenkins, professor of Psychology at UMass, found in her research on low-wage workers that the notion of “opting out” means little to workers who must stay employed out of financial necessity. In contrast, highly educated, career women are often making decisions related to their career trajectories and the costs to their success of stepping off the fast track.
In her chapter, Joya Misra argues that women's employment often requires relying on other women to provide care for families -- via childcare, eldercare, and other domestic work. These shifts may lead to higher levels of inequality among women; highly educated women may be compensated well for their employment, but the workers who cover care may earn substantially less. Yet, by looking at models from other countries, it is clear that in some contexts, care work is better compensated, recognizing the importance of such work for society.
Ultimately, the contributors persuasively make the case that most women who leave the workplace are being pushed out by a work environment that is hostile to women, hostile to children, and hostile to the demands of family caregiving, and that small changes in outdated workplace policies regarding scheduling, flexibility, telecommuting and mandatory overtime can lead to important benefits for workers and employers alike.
The books contributors include Kerstin Aumann, Jamie Dolkas, Ellen Galinsky, Lisa Ackerly Hernandez, Susan J. Lambert, Peggie R. Smith, Pamela Stone, Joan C. Williams, and CRF affiliates Joya Misra and Maureen Perry-Jenkins.
Dr. Jones dedicated the book to the Center for Research on Families “in recognition of all the great support I got from you.”
To preorder the book, published by New York University Press, please visit http://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookId=5826