Why Opting Out Still Hasn't Been Proven False

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Oct. 26 2009 11:13 AM

Why Opting Out Still Hasn't Been Proven False

Commenter Alphabet Soup is right about one thing : It is a little odd to have a discussion of opting out on DoubleX (or, of course, anywhere) without Linda Hirshman. One explanation is, as Alphabet suggested, that I'm in the special place in hell for people who report findings that are later debunked, sentenced to read unredacted Census data for eternity. Another, which has the virtue of being true, is that I was in Europe spending my gains on a well-deserved vacation.

I'm back now, and predictably unimpressed with the so-called "findings" in the Post article. In fact, this whole DoubleX discussion starts by buying, without further inquiry, the Post suggestion that the opt-out revolution is a myth. But, as Emily correctly says, there's been a small rise in the number of families with kids under 15 and a stay-at-home mom. So, where’s the myth?

The Washington Post has a front-page article today arguing that the so-called opt-out revolution - the alleged increase in stay-at-home mothers-is largely fiction. ... But then you get to the final paragraphs:
Historically, the Census Bureau’s annual population survey shows that there are more mothers at home now than in the mid-1990s. In 1994, 19.8 percent of married-couple families with children younger than 15 had a stay-at-home mother. Last year, it was 23.7 percent of families - an increase that Elliott said was statistically significant.
"I don’t think we exactly know why," she said. It sure sounds as if those numbers undercut the thesis of the story, doesn’t it? And those are the only historical statistics in the story.

Well maybe, as Emily suggests, the opt-out revolution is STILL a myth, because, as the Post reports, the affluent, educated women supposedly making the "revolution" aren't opting out. It's the poor ignorant ones who are. But Leonhardt even disputes that, citing well-respected economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, who reported that "earlier this decade 60.3 percent of female Harvard graduates in their mid-30s were working full time. In the 1990s, the equivalent number was 63.5 percent."

But, but, you debunkers might be thinking, Goldin and Katz must be wrong, too, because the Post said women in families with incomes over $100,000 and bachelor's degrees have not increased their opting-out. And you would be right. Your problem is that you think making a family income of over $100,000 a year makes you elite, or, so to speak, one of Lisa Belkin's BFFs. I don't know about Lisa, but I wasn't talking about the random $100,000 bachelor of arts woman. I was talking about the women who announced their weddings in the Styles section of the New York Times , which, like graduating from Harvard, often means never having to say family income of only $100,000.

Well, what about the really, truly elite? In Opting Out: An Exploration of Labor Force Participation of New Mothers , Barbara Cheeseman Day and Jennifer Downs of the same United States Census Bureau that fueled the Post article just told the Population Association of America 2009 Annual Meeting that, "Women at the highest income levels of $200,000 or more are slightly more likely to opt out than those with incomes between $100,000 and $199,999." Actually, if you read the Census ladies’ charts you see that the really elite women opt out at almost exactly the same rate as the women making between $50,000 and $100,000.

I don’t know if the opt-out phenomenon is a myth (the revolution is a whole other story). Cheeseman and Day’s snapshot and Goldin's Harvard data suggest opting out among the truly elite, but, since the Bureau has yet to see fit to publish historical data about the truly elite population, we don't know if, like their sisters in families under $100,000, these elite women have decreased their work-force participation over time or not. But what we do know is that the "over-$100,000" slice so beloved of the opt-out debunkers isolates the most working of all the women surveyed. The poorer ones stay home more and the richer ones stay home more. Hardly the material for myth-unmaking.


Linda Hirshman is the author of the (entirely appropriately named)  Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution, coming June 5. www.gayvictorybook.com.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?


Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 6:49 PM God’s Oligarch One of Vladimir Putin’s favorite businessmen wants to start an Orthodox Christian Fox News and return Russia to its glorious czarist past.
Oct. 20 2014 6:48 PM Apple: Still Enormously Profitable
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.