Flavia has a guest post from one of her readers, a claim that there is indeed an "opt-out revolution," as it's been put elsewhere. The guest-post is, in "Clueless" parlance, "way harsh, Tai," towards women with Ivy League degrees of not-such-distant vintage (spotted at the writer's husband's 25th reunion) who do not work for pay. It's also super compelling and getting a great discussion going. The letter-writer, who implicitly acknowledges the anecdotal nature of her evidence, finds that women with fancy degrees (Ivy college, graduate degrees) are staying home to raise large families. If it's their 25th college reunion, that makes them 47, give or take. So it's unlikely, though not impossible in that milieu, that they're staying home with very young children, let alone physically recovering from pregnancy. They're staying home with older children, it seems.
Which is interesting, sure. Do their husbands encourage this (as Flavia says in the comments, the status-symbol phenomenon, or for less sinister if still upsetting from a feminist perspective reasons) or merely tolerate it? How much of this is choice and how much is, as the author hints at one point, something more bleak - a kind of internalized misogyny holding back women with great potential? The danger of choice feminism is that we risk not considering that very real phenomenon as a possibility. Is there any positive to an arrangement where one parent stays home, if we make it more of a gender-neutral option? Could be, but as long as it's not gender-neutral, we must go on having this conversation.
And a useful conversation it is. But it's a message that would have come across more strongly had the author not held herself up as a shining example of adherence to feminist ideals, of general together-ness. She writes, as an example of why two-working-parent families are better, "When our child was small, we could afford excellent in-home care and also save for hir education. We don't have to debate whether or not we can afford camp, music lessons, or orthodontia. We can!"
Eh, not everybody can. Another family - even Ivy-educated - may have calculated that if the lower-paid partner (often the woman) worked outside the home, this wouldn't pay for childcare for multiple children. Now, maybe that's short-sighted - maybe the woman should keep working as an investment in her future career-and-salary - but it's still a different situation.
Also this: "Maybe it's my background as a scholarship kid who always assumed she'd work her whole life, but I've never seen the world of work as a faceless enemy," and "[...] I've managed to work my way into a decent position, and I have hopes that new opportunities might open up for me in the future."
-Like Withywindle, who linked to some data about this there, I do think a j'accuse on the topic of elite women opting out kind of does call for numbers, if it's making sweeping claims, and not just questioning the choice on an individual level. Unless the reunion published a book with what everyone's up to (which can happen) and is basing this on something larger, it could be that the author simply ran into an unrepresentative group. I wonder if the women the author met really don't work for pay at all, or if the author's rounding down their less-ambitious or from-home jobs to 'housewife'. Or even if - if these were just women met briefly at a social function - some of these women do have powerful careers, but in a social/reunion setting for whatever reason choose to identify first and foremost as "moms." Which would also be interesting, but which would be quite different.
-We really do need to be sure these are women who might have had illustrious careers, but then decided against. "Elite" isn't a monolith. Nor does 'graduate-educated' mean 'employable in the professions.' See Emily Matchar. See my Second-After-Sartre theory. While women who become high-powered executives tend to come from a certain part of society, it's not accurate to look at everyone with an MA in Medieval Tapestry as a potential Sandberg or Slaughter who opted out. This doesn't mean women don't self-sabotage along the way, closing off various opportunities open to those at their universities, of their social class. It only means that said self-sabotage has often happened long before any husband-and-babies entered the picture.
-In response to: "Is it just me, or is the unemployed spouse and large (3-5 children) family back with a vengeance among the economic elite?": These women are/were home with a million kids, presumably over the span of many years, unless quadruplets. They weren't idle. They weren't "unemployed" really. They didn't opt out of doing things with the day.
-If you're going to have a post that asks what message it sends to daughters if mom doesn't work, you also need to address the argument that kids are better off if one parent stays home. Once the think-of-the-children angle enters into it, once you're arguing that other people are bad parents, you do open yourself up to the same accusation. And as much as I personally think working-for-pay is important, I'd have to say, there are far worse things a parent can do to a kid than stay home and look after him/her.