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The NYT: Opting back in to “The Opt-Out Revolution”

Avalicious!.jpgToday’s top spot on MEL is owned by an article on high-powered female students at elite Ivy League schools who plan to choose motherhood over careers when the time comes (because college kids are often very very right about how the future is going to play out). It’s an interesting trend that rings more than a faint bell — mostly because two years ago, the NYT Magazine ran a cover story on the very same subject: “The Opt-Out Revolution” by “Life’s Work” columnist Lisa Belkin. Belkin asked and answered this provocative question:

Why don’t women run the world?
Maybe it’s because they don’t want to.

…showcasing a number of high-powered elite-educated women who happily left the partnership track at law firms and huge bonus potential at investment banks for lives as stay-at-home moms.

Today’s version looks at the same trend, only from far before these women have the chance to be ground down by 80-hour workweeks. It’s just a bit surprising that the NYT wouldn’t reference it’s own definitive story (like, for example, CNN did earlier in March), clocking in at 8330 words and 671 Google hits, especially when the subject matter is so dead on and the trend so similar, if younger-skewing.

I also wondered about the uneveness of the quotes provided: only one young woman spoke of being inspired by a working mother to have a career, yet if these numbers are indeed indicative of a shift away from juggling home and careers surely more young women would have comments on how it was to grow up with a working mother? (For the record, let me declare my bias: my mom, a working nurse, went to law school when I was four and had a full-time legal career all through my formative years. I minded when I was four; less so when I hit high school and discovered boys). Yet even though 40% of respondents had working moms, only one woman quoted seemed to want a full-time career or to have been inspired by her own mom.

One more note on the sources: most of these girls seemed to envision careers in law or business, or simply just having “careers;” we didn’t hear from Yale Drama majors or the media junkies at the school paper or the Type-A entrepreneurs or passionate political activists or the Lit majors brewing debut novels in their heads. One thing I recall about Belkin’s article is how career women opting-out were relieved to be leaving demanding jobs (“I didn’t want to work that hard” “Having a baby provides a graceful and convenient exit”). I have to say, in my white-shoe lawyering days I knew lots of women eager to quit law; I don’t know a single writer who does now. So maybe a factor in these decisions is the lucky circumstance of having that choice: to work or not to work? If the question is framed as working/staying home versus creating and building something/letting go of your passion, perhaps the answers would be very different.

The baby above, by the way, belongs to one of my best friends. She’s a great stay-at-home Mom — a full-time job unto itself.

Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood [NYT, Sept. 20, 2005]
The Opt-Out Revolution [NYT, Oct. 26, 2003]

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