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Press Release

Barbara Laskin

Women, Motherhood, and Work:
Understanding the Opt-Out Phenomenon

New Book by Macalester Professors Argues that Opt-Out Phenomenon Has Lasting Significance for Society at Large

Photo: Macalester Professor Karine Moe

October 16, 2009 - St. Paul, Minn. - A new book by economist Karine Moe and anthropologist Dianna Shandy, both of Macalester College, argues that women’s decisions about paid work and motherhood affect us all.

Early this century, when significant numbers of college-educated American women began to leave paid work to become stay-at-home mothers, an emotionally charged national debate erupted.

In their book, GLASS CEILINGS AND 100-HOUR COUPLES: What the Opt-Out Phenomenon Can Teach Us About Work and Family (University of Georgia Press, 2009), Professors Moe and Shandy step back from the sometimes overheated rhetoric around the ‘mommy wars’ and explore why well-educated women give up their careers to stay home with their children. 

Photo: Macalester Professor Dianna Shandy

Mothers and professionals themselves, the authors are sensitive to the ways in which these decisions are both deeply personal and societally significant. They conclude, “Our research suggests that given the right structure, women who are opting out altogether or who are settling for positions that underutilize their talents could more fully realize their potential to the benefit of themselves, their families, their communities, and the economy.”

Drawing on hundreds of interviews with women from around the country, original survey research, and national labor force data, Moe and Shandy refocus the discussion of women who opt out from one where they are the object of scrutiny to one where their aspirations and struggles tell us about the far broader swath of American women who continue to juggle paid work and family.

Photo: Book Cover Glass Ceilings

In Glass Ceilings, Moe and Shandy seek to understand as fully as possible the workplace environments and cultural expectations that shape women’s choices about family and work, without becoming entangled in the emotional debates that have made the opt-out trend hard to talk about objectively.

Their highly readable account of their findings covers many bases.

Elrena Evans, co-editor of Mama, Ph.D., notes, “Moe and Shandy have written a comprehensive account of the many reasons behind the 'opt-out revolution.' Their engaging presentation makes for a fascinating read—one that will be of interest to anyone who feels the disconnect between the current state of work/life balance in this country, and the possibilities that exist for something so much better."

While flexible work options are often quick to disappear in a bad economy, Moe and Shandy’s book shows how protecting flexibility may be a critical component of a better economic future.

As described by Publishers Weekly, “Liberally used economic statistics describe financial sacrifices, potential marital shifts in power and ways to avoid the automatic social invisibility conferred on stay-at-home mothers, while well-placed anecdotes from study subjects weigh flexibility and quality of life for family members.”

Macalester College, founded in 1874, is a national liberal arts college with a full-time enrollment of 1,958 students. Macalester is nationally recognized for its long-standing commitment to academic excellence, internationalism, multiculturalism, and civic engagement.


Tuesday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Common Good Books, 165 Western Ave. N., St. Paul, Minn.

Wednesday, October 28 at 4 p.m.
University of Minnesota Bookstore, 300 Washington Ave. SE, Minneapolis, Minn.

Friday, October 30 at 7 p.m.
Book Revue, 313 New York Avenue, Huntington, NY

Saturday, November 14 at 1 p.m.
Bibelot Grand Ave., 1082 Grand Ave., St. Paul, Minn.

For more information on the book, see: