This paper identifies factors that contribute to the decision by some married American women to “opt-out” of the labor market. Interestingly, many of these women have invested heavily in their education and have opportunities for career advancement. The “opting-out” phenomenon illustrates women who leave high-profile jobs to seek flexible work arrangements (e.g., part-time jobs) or to be stay-at-home mothers to balance work and family. Opting out is embedded in debates about traditional gender roles, wage penalty, and the loss of valuable human capital for the economy—highly educated mothers. Data for this study come from the 2012 American Time Use Survey (ATUS). This study uses Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) to evaluate the factors that influence the number of hours women work a week. It also uses logistic regression to assess if the effect of spouses’ work status holds after controlling for age, race, region, women’s education, work sector, occupation, household income, number of children, children under five, and time spent on childcare. Furthermore, this study evaluates the different time usage of parents and applies existent household utility maximization models to show the effect of women’s decision to opt out. This study found that while spouses’ works status is a significant contributor to women’s decision to opt out, there are other factors that are stronger predictors. This study also found that married mothers have a strong preference for housework and childcare, which leaves them with less leisure time compared to fathers. Ultimately, this study sheds light on the way a household maximizes its utility based on the division of labor agreed by the couple, which in turn influences labor supply.
This study explores how upper and middle-upper-class married mothers living in the United States frame and understand the personal and professional implications of opting-out. Opting-out entails women leaving high-profile jobs for more flexible work arrangements or to stay at home. These women have heavily invested in their educations and have promotion opportunities, which makes their decision to opt out of high-powered positions perplexing. Structural functionalism and symbolic interactionism frame this research question. Bourdieu’s concept of habitus links both theories to show how women “do gender.” In-depth interviews were conducted with 12 working mothers who opted out to raise their children. The study found that for interviewees the ideal American mother is a working woman who is obsessed with her children’s success. It also confirmed the friction between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers, known as the “mommy wars.” For stay-at-home mothers the cost associated with their choice is a career penalty; for working mothers it is the feeling of guilt of being partially present in their children’s upbringing. This study argues for policies that aim for a better work-family balance and shared parenthood and which diminish the penalties, both financial and tacit, for working mothers and mothers returning to the workforce.