Wellesley Scholars Join Conversation on "Opt-Out" Generation

August 21, 2013

Rosanna Hertz and Nancy Marshall Talk about Two Sides of Motherhood and Work

baby over mother's shoulder

With a spate of recent media stories about women’s choices around childrearing and work, Wellesley experts provide commentary backed by in-depth research.

Rosanna Hertz , the Class of 1919 – 50th Reunion Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Sociology, is the author of Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice: How Women Are Choosing Parenthood without Marriage and Creating the New American Family, published in 2008. In an August 21, 2013, feature story in the Daily Beast called “No Dad? No Problem. Meet the Moms Who Opt-In Forever and Aren’t Complaining,” Hertz says one of the defining traits of single mothers by choice is how much they plan for and think about life as a parent before they take the plunge. “You rarely hear married women say, ‘Should I have a kid?’” she says. “When you’re married, you have license to do it. When you’re single, you ask around first. You ask friends and family to get on board and help you out. You’re already creating a village and not expecting to do it all alone. That’s a very different thing.”

On the flip side of the opt-in story, the New York Times and Jezebel.com have recently published reappraisals of the “Opt-Out Revolution” noted 10 years ago. In her blog, Nancy Marshall, senior research scientist and an associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and adjunct associate professor at Wellesley College, takes them to task, pointing out:

Both articles miss the most important point—the Opt-Out Revolution was not a “revolution,” it was a media creation that took a drop in employment rates among mothers of infants in the 2000 Census, and the experiences of a few women with husbands with high salaries during an economic period when the haves seemed to have it all—pre-Great Recession—and used that mythology to suggest that the reason women don’t fare as well in the workplace is because “they choose not to.”

Marshall goes on to argue that the trouble with this presentation of women/family/work issues, even when the trend is to opt-in or to regret opting out, is that it focuses on personal choices as a way of dealing with unfriendly work or demanding social dynamics, rather than systemic changes or as Marshal puts it, “our collective action to challenge the inequalities built into our economy; inequalities of gender, class and race.”

The public conversation on this topic is far from over, and Wellesley voices will continue to be heard.


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