In my last post Camouflage, transition and summer plans, I announced that I’d review a “transition” book every week for the summer. With the weather at 95+ degrees these past few days, I’ve decided to start my summer project a bit early.
The first book I read, Glass Ceilings & 100 Hour Couples: What the Opt-out phenomenon can teach us about work and family, is a compelling research- heavy book on the challenges faced by women who try to integrate family and other priorities into their working reality, particularly in a two-earner household whose earners each work 50+ hours weekly.
The book immediately got me thinking about research on longevity conducted at the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Robert Giffith investigated characteristics of centenarians and published a report in 2004. He found that the key reason for longevity in centenarians is their adaptive capacity.
Ladies, my book summary is simple: we have longevity nailed based upon what we need to do to maintain work and family over the long-term. We are adaptability experts.
In the book authors Dianne Shandy and Karine Moe present a carefully researched view of what we can learn from the opt-out phenomenon. The book attempted a deep dive into the trends driving the “Opt out revolution” reported by Lisa Belkins for the New York Times in October 2003. In that early “controversial” report Belkins focused on a trend in which highly educated women with children chose to exit the workplace.
I found the book itself a metaphor for the “adaptability” required of every woman who tries to integrate family or other priorities with paid work. You see the authors initially sought to explore a very small demographic of the working female population featured in Belkin’s 2003 work. However, they quickly found that their research revealed issues faced by ALL women who seek to combine work with other responsibilities. In response, they expanded their scope and wrote a terrific book.
The data sprinkled throughout the book is captivating. Did you know…
- The number of American women who hold college degrees more than tripled between 1970 and 2007. Women today in their mid-twenties to early thirties are more educated than their male counterparts. (Glass Ceilings, Shandy & Moe, pg 175)
- The rate of women with children under 18 who participated in the workforce dipped from 73% in 2000 to 70.6% in 2006 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics “Women in the Labor Force” Databook. (Glass Ceilings, Shandy & Moe, pg 23)
- Primary research conducted by the authors revealed that almost half (49%) of women had reduced their work hours at some point in order to balance family needs. 40% changed jobs for family reasons. (Glass Ceilings, Shandy & Moe, pg 27)
- In 2003 6.8% of women were self-employed, a >25% increase since 1980. (Glass Ceilings, Shandy & Moe, pg 153)
- 30% of privately held companies, or 7.7 million, are majority women-owned. Only 12.6% have employees, but this equates to more than 7 million workers. (Glass Ceilings, Shandy & Moe, pg 153)
Ultimately the authors land on “flexibility” as a key attribute sought in the workplace by most women with children under 18. Before reading Glass Ceilings I probably knew that but the authors present a myriad of societal and social issues faced by women in a compelling fashion that is well worth the read. A sprinkling of their topics include our children’s notion of gender; our social identities, maternal walls, adaptive strategies, wage penalties, and on and on.
The authors also allude to the need for a significant structural change in the workplace; a change that would incorporate flexibility wholeheartedly. In the meantime, we continue to re-imagine ourselves, our careers and our family concepts. Have you bumped into transition issues as a result of work and family issues? Have you found flexibility in your current employment situation? Did you have to create flexibility on your own via a job change or other means?
The funny feminist side of the book leaves a heavy question for the reader: “does realizing one’s potential at work, having a life of the mind, and making contributions to society have to be seen in opposition to having a family? Why is this question asked of women but not of men?” (Glass Ceilings, Shandy & Moe, pg 179) More on that in another post.
Prior to reading Glass Ceilings I hadn’t thought of transitions in the frame of adaptability and flexibility. My sense is that there is something there. Maybe we’ll find it in the next book….
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