Goodbye to the Grind!

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“The Opt-Out Revolution” by Lisa Belkin, in The New York Times Magazine (Oct. 26, 2003), 229 W. 43rd St., New York, N.Y. 10036.

“I don’t want to be on the fast track leading to a partnership at a prestigious law firm,” says Katherine Brokaw, who left that track in order to stay home with her three children. “Some people define that as success. I don’t.”

She is not alone. Before they ever bump up against a “glass ceiling,” more and more highly educated, high-powered professional women are rejecting the workplace and the grim climb upward in favor of stay-at-home motherhood, reports Belkin, a former New York Times reporter who now works from home as a freelance writer and biweekly Times columnist.

Surveys of professional women show that, depending on the profession, between one-fourth and one-third are out of the work force. A canvass of women from the Harvard Business School classes of 1981, 1985, and 1991 found only 38 percent working fulltime. Fortune magazine checked on 108 women who’d made its list of “most powerful” women over the years and found that at least 20 had left their jobs (most of them voluntarily) for a less high-powered existence.

In less than a decade, “the number of children being cared for by stay-at-home moms has increased nearly 13 percent,” Belkin says, quoting census data. And in just two years, the percentage of new mothers returning to work fell by four percentage points, to 55 percent in 2000. Two-thirds of the mothers who work in “the crucial career-building years (25–44)” do so only part-time. And many women gain more control over their work schedule by striking out on their own: Since 1997, the number of businesses owned or co-owned by women has jumped 11 percent.

None of this is what feminists in the 1970s envisioned, Belkin says, but it could be the start of a different revolution. Because so many women have exercised the option to downshift, more men are now doing so, too. “Sanity, balance and a new definition of success, it seems, just might be contagious.”

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