Among the anecdotes are numbers: roughly a third of “highly qualified” women leave their jobs to spend time at home; 89 percent of those who “offramped” said they wanted to resume work, but only 73 percent of these succeeded in getting back in, and only 40 percent got full-time jobs, often at lower pay or with lesser job responsibilities.I'm not sure why the Gray Lady is so obsessed with the happiness choices of women of privilege. Maybe it's like reality shows, where viewers can think, "Okay, you're rich, but you didn't get everything you wanted, did you?"
Or maybe it's to induce schadenfreude in readers like humanities academics, most of whom will never see a six-figure salary in their wildest dreams. Idealism says that the purpose is to make women aware of the limitations of their choices, but maybe what NYT is saying is that women are justly punished for ambition. Ouch.
At The Atlantic, Magda Pecsenye puts her finger on a possible flaw in the argument:
Blaming struggles of a limited group on personal choice is bad social science. Warner doesn't look at how well the women who stayed in the workforce are faring now, or how the men in their cohort are faring now. Without these comparisons there's no way to know if the women who opted out are doing substantially worse than they might have had they stayed in.In other words, "Hello, recession!"
The original participants all stated confidently that they'd waltz back into high-powered jobs when they were ready and are shocked to discover that that's not the case. As Historiann says, "No $hit, Sherlock! Duhhhhh! Awesome!!! Eleventy. Are there any other cliches and verbal representations of my eyeballs rolling back in my head that I’ve overlooked so far?"
As Bardiac says, "I'm sort of despairing here because the women the article talks about were/are way privileged; they sound like they all had college educations, and they all went to college when feminism was important on college campuses. They all had job opportunities beyond what most people have."
Bardiac's right. I think they thought their class privilege would trump the disadvantages of being (1) female and (2) over 40 when they tried to go back to work, which in a sexist and ageist culture is a big mistake.
But academics, and academic humanities, are seemingly in a permanent state of recession (unlike other parts of a university; h/t Margaret Soltan), which is why quitting after tenure elicits such strong emotions.
This reminds me of the "dropping out" issue that Flavia highlighted a couple of months ago. The thing that her classmate was saying, Paul Revere-style, was that if you make the choice to leave, or opt out, or "drop out," you might never get a chance to opt back in. And as Dr. Crazy points out, it's only an option for partnered people.
The real question, which is kind of obscured in the NYT's interest in the emotional happiness of the women it surveys, is this: how will you support yourself? And what are you doing to ensure that you can? This is a human issue, which is another way of saying it's a feminist issue.