Opt Out Revolution? New Evidence to the Contrary – Center for Economic and Policy Research

For Immediate Release: January 10, 2007
Contact: Alan Barber, 202-293-5380 x115

Washington DC — Recent newspaper stories have depicted highly educated women in their thirties leaving high profile jobs in law, business, and medicine to take care of children and parents, but new evidence from scholar Heather Boushey published in the journal Feminist Economics[1] suggests otherwise. Boushey shows that the number of women leaving jobs to take care of children have decreased dramatically over the past two decades. She points to changes in the labor market, not children, as a cause for somewhat lower rates of women in the workplace more recently.

“Boushey’s work is a crucial intervention in the debate about support for women entering the workforce,” said Diana Strassmann, Professor of the Practice at Rice University and the founding editor of Feminist Economics. “Discussions of mother’s choices should be backed up by real evidence and Dr. Boushey’s article offers a rigorous, peer-reviewed analysis.”

The article, “Opting Out? The Effect of Children on Women’s Employment in the United States[2]” focuses on the specific question of the effect of children on mothers’ employment patterns and responds to media portrayal of “any exit from employment by a mother as about motherhood, not other factors, such as inflexible workplaces, labor market weakness, a decrease in men’s contributions to housework, or other reasons why women may not work outside the home.”

In a 2003 story titled the “Opt Out Revolution,” The New York Times reported a tale of high-powered, prestigiously educated women who have decided to “opt out” of work in favor of pursing motherhood full time. Boushey’s research contradicts this story as a representative trend. “Highly educated women, those with a graduate degree – those who the media claims have been opting out of employment for motherhood – have not actually seen a statistically or economically meaningful decline or increase in the estimated marginal effect of children on their employment,” she states. Furthermore, the effect of children on women with a high school or college degree and for single mothers has sharply decreased.

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