Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Having it All: opt outs want back in

No, you can't actually have it all -- neither as a man nor as a woman. If you want to spend time with your kids (I highly recommend it), that will take time away from your startup, hedge fund, climb up the ladder, investigations into quantum decoherence. You just have to strike a balance that you can deal with.

Men are on average more driven by career success and money than women, and similarly women are more, well, maternal than men. It's best to think about this (as with all questions dealing with groups of people) in terms of distributions rather than strict categories. There are outlier women who are better corporate warriors than 95% of men (but perhaps they comprise less than 5% of the female population!), and there are outlier men who are great stay at home dads. At least at the moment, and perhaps for deep evolutionary reasons, the male and female distributions are shifted relative to each other along these dimensions. To me, feminism means fighting for the rights of outliers to do what they want, while still respecting the larger number of women who might be happier in more traditional roles. In my opinion, noticing properties of distributions is not in any way anti-feminist.
NYTimes: ... The culture of motherhood, post-recession, had altered considerably, too. The women of the opt-out revolution left the work force at a time when the prevailing ideas about motherhood idealized full-time, round-the-clock, child-centered devotion. In 2000, for example, with the economy strong and books like “Surrendering to Motherhood,” a memoir about the “liberation” of giving up work to stay home, setting the tone for the aspirational mothering style of the day, almost 40 percent of respondents to the General Social Survey told researchers they believed a mother’s working was harmful to her children (an increase of eight percentage points since 1994). But by 2010, with recovery from the “mancession” slow and a record 40 percent of mothers functioning as family breadwinners, fully 75 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that “a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.” And after decades of well-publicized academic inquiry into the effects of maternal separation and the dangers of day care, a new generation of social scientists was publishing research on the negative effects of excessive mothering: more depression and worse general health among mothers, according to the American Psychological Association.

I wondered if these changes affected the women who opted out years ago. Had they found the “escape hatch” from the rat race that one of Belkin’s interviewees said she was after? Were they able, as a vast majority said they had planned, to transition back into the work force? Or had they, as the author Leslie Bennetts predicted in her 2007 book, “The Feminine Mistake,” come to see that, by making themselves financially dependent upon their men — particularly at a time when no man could depend upon his job — they had made a colossal error?

The 22 women I interviewed, for the most part, told me that the perils of leaving the work force were counterbalanced by the pleasures of being able to experience motherhood on their own terms. A certain number of these women — the superelite, you might say, the most well-off, with the highest-value name-brand educational credentials and powerful and well-connected social networks — found jobs easily after extended periods at home. These jobs generally paid less than their previous careers and were less prestigious. But the women found the work more interesting, socially conscious and family-friendly than their old high-powered positions.

Pamela Stone, a professor of sociology at Hunter College and the author of the 2007 book “Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home,” heard many similarly glowing stories. In the early 2000s, she spent considerable time interviewing 54 well-off married mothers drawn primarily from the alumnae networks of several highly selective colleges and universities “who had navigated elite environments with competitive entry requirements,” as she described them in her book. Now she’s updating her research and has reached about 60 percent of her interviewees, two-thirds of whom have returned to work — their decisions sometimes prompted by their husbands’ somewhat reduced earnings, post-recession. “What I heard repeatedly was ‘The job found me’ or ‘The job fell into my lap,’ ” she told me.

Among the women I spoke with, those who didn’t have the highest academic credentials or highest-powered social networks or who hadn’t been sufficiently “strategic” in their volunteering (fund-raising for a Manhattan private school could be a nice segue back into banking; running bake sales for the suburban swim team tended not to be a career-enhancer) or who had divorced, often struggled greatly.
Note, moms with elite pedigrees have a much easier time getting back into the workforce after opting out to raise young kids.

Hmm ... this might affect average hourly wages by gender ... but too complex to make its way into the social science discourse ...
At a time when having a “good” job means working 50-plus hours a week, in addition to weekends and tech-tethered evenings, it’s not surprising that, if both spouses work, it can often feel as if neither is ever truly home. And that desire to be emotionally present at home, Pamela Stone, the sociologist, told me, became more pressing over time for the women she interviewed, reshaping their ambitions when they decided to go back to work.

While two-thirds of the women she reinterviewed originally worked in male-dominated professions like banking or corporate law, now only a quarter are employed in traditionally masculine and hard-driving fields. The rest chose more female-dominated, and far less lucrative, “caring, nurturing occupations” like teaching or nonprofit work, Stone said. Only one of the women she interviewed had returned to her former employer (in a “vastly different capacity, much diminished,” she said); and all have scaled down their ambitions.

“The longer they’re home, the more they continue the trajectory toward something different,” Stone told me. “They have greater appreciation of some of the values of home and connectivity, which were somewhat alien to them in their high-flying professions.”


David Brahm said...

That sort of "distributions" talk got Lawrence Summers fired!

Steve Hsu said...

Oops ... I retract every word! :-|

ben_g said...

The problem is that the outliers can't understand why they're not the norm, and assume that it's due solely to nefarious social factors. At the same time I'm rooting for things to shift more towards the side of the outliers, so I'm kind of conflicted with the frequent lack of intellectual honesty on the feminist side.

I'm reminded of one of my fav. Pinker quotes on this subject: "Feminism as a movement for political and social equity is important, but feminism as an academic clique committed to eccentric doctrines about human nature is not."

Anonymous said...

I wrote something pretty similar here in that it is not about being male or female but choosing the balance that is right for you.

Diogenes said...

"a new generation of social scientists was publishing research on the negative effects of excessive mothering: more depression and worse general health among mothers, according to the American Psychological Association"

As if civilization could solve its problems with science. The vulgar assume without knowing they assume anything, that as things are is as they must be and are better than they have ever been in every way.

Only one chromosome out of 46, and all of male genitalia has a female analog, yet some (morons) would make the difference quasi-religious, mythical.

All of my actual experience vs theoretical bs is that men and women are much much much more alike than they are different. But girls, stop with the makeup and jewelry already. Leave that to the fags.

Cornelius said...

My wife is going down this road now. We recently found out she's pregnant so she's going to take a break from teaching and research. I'm going to continue working on my startup. Hopefully her elite credentials will allow her to get back to teaching and/or research when/if she wants.

As for feminism, it's important for all supporters of social justice to recognize that feminism is NOT about equal rights, it's just a big lobbying group that works to win privileges for SOME women. If feminism were about equal rights, it would be called egalitarianism. I've never heard a feminist complain that men are overrepresented among the homeless, dropouts and prisoners. We could help society more by reducing the number of homeless men by 1% than we could by increasing the number of female CEOs by 1%. Feminism is NOT about equality or social justice.

Diogenes said...

Nature, nurture, or is it this?

disqus_ZsHlaWpOsF said...

Your wife must be very beautiful because your children are.

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