The Choice To Work Or Stay Home: Is It Really A Choice?

Is a woman’s choice to stay home and raise kids or work full time really such a choice at all?  In a New York Times article, this decision is framed as an option.  The paper recently ran a piece called “The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In” as a follow up to a 2003 piece about highly educated, accomplished women who left the workforce to raise their children full time.  It is framed within the context of a personal decision based upon personal fulfillment, a decision that appears to be made in a vacuum.

The reality is that for most women across socio-economic levels the choice to work or not work is not necessarily a choice at all, but rather a consequence of the recent economic downturn over the last several years.  Since 2008, costs of childbirth, health care, and education have skyrocketed while wages have stagnated and part-time labor has surged.  The U.S. has one of the shortest parental leaves of any developed nation, with many businesses providing none at all.  In addition, the U.S also has some of the most expensive childcare.  This means that, for some families, as their wages have stagnated or declined and the costs of childcare have soared, it is often cheaper for a woman to stay home, even if she would prefer to be in the workforce.

Perhaps the so called “mommy wars” aren’t wars at all.  Perhaps it’s not about prioritizing but instead about escalating costs associated with child rearing.  By reframing the issue as an economic one, women aren’t pitted against one another.   Those who stay home with children, regardless of the reason, shouldn’t be penalized for neglecting their careers.  And, conversely, women who work full time shouldn’t be judged for being bad mothers.  Oftentimes, these aren’t really “choices” at all.

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