The Opting Out Myth


The US Senate decreed in 2003 that October be designated Work and Family Month. This year’s observance started off with a BANG this morning with the Washington Post announcing on its front page that the “opt out revolution”, i.e. working women leaving the board room for the play room, was a myth.

Based on US Census data, the article reports that 1 out of 4 married mothers stay home with children under 15, while the vast majority work outside the home. In numeric terms, there are 5.6 million stay at home mothers, and about 165,000 stay at home dads.

So, now that the presence of women with children in the workplace is documented, can we please move along with the work of hauling the US into the 21st century? Paid family medical leave, anyone? Flexible workplaces? Paid sick days? Rights for part-time workers?

You can reach the Washington Post article here.


  • imamomma

    1) We won't really know if more at the top are opting out than before until we have longitudinal data about what percentage of upper-income moms stay home–so although the percentage may be small, one snapshot doesn't tell us whether it's growing or not.

    2) Your conclusions ignore one comparison the study can make to previous data–that the percentage of women staying at home has actually INCREASED since the 1990's.

    3) To me, the main myth that this data debunks is the myth that only women lucky enough to have a high-earning husband can afford the "luxury" of staying at home. It shows more the picture I've seen in my fellow at-home mothers; that we come from all parts of the economic spectrum, we stay home for a variety of reasons, usually a combination of reasons.

  • Idyllic Youth

    I agree that people often believe that the only women who can afford to stay at home are those with high earning husbands. Not always the case. My best friend and I stay at home, by choice, while our husbands bring in less than 25 thousand a year each. Personally, the reason I am staying home and not my husband is because I am nursing on demand. Once the nursing relationship is over and I can find a job with benefits and pay that will keep us afloat, we plan to switch places. As much as I will miss being a stay at home mom, it is only fair that my husband gets the chance to be a stay at home dad. Where I am really lucky isn't with the income, its the fact that I have a supportive partner!

  • Catherine

    I'm disappointed to see that NAMC is not paying attention to the "devil in the details" — the definition of "stay at home mother" in this study EXCLUDED mothers who earn ANY income at all. So a mother who works a few hours per week lands in the "working" category, while she considers herself an at-home mother. AND the study included mothers with a child under the age of 15 – so it is not possible to draw conclusions about how families care for their young children. Many mothers who are "at home" full time with babies later move into the "working" category by earning some income.

    What exactly is anyone trying to "prove" with this study? Is it justification for continuing to advocate for "working" families only?

    Public policies should be crafted to support the all types of families and to respect the decisions parents make about their income-earning and caregiving responsibilities.

    Catherine Myers
    Executive Director

    Family and Home Network

  • Valerie Young

    NAMC/MOTHERS supports all families and those who care for dependent family members. Carework is devalued in our culture, as is most work performed by women. Policies facilitating income generation by those who perform caregiving are not for "working families only", but are rather matters of social and economic justice. Currently, the range of decisions caregivers can make are severly limited. Legislative efforts regarding paid leave, part-time worker parity, and greater invesment in early childhood education, to name but a few, are finally "in play" and receiving national attention. The survey in question demonstrated that mothers as a group do not prefer home and hearth to the exclusion of employment, and that women with children maintain signficant attachment to the paid labor force. Accordingly, the infrastructure surrounding both how work is done and how care is provided must change to keep pace with a profoundly changed society. Promoting gender equity in that environment goes hand in hand with broadening the respect and importance of carework in our society and securing the economic status of those who do it.