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Kitchen vs. corner office: Should successful women 'opt out' of work?

Jack Hollingsworth/Stock photo | Thinkstock

Ever since then-New York Times writer Lisa Belkin coined the phrase " Opt Out Revolution" in 2003 to refer to highly-educated career women choosing to become stay-at-home-moms, we've been debating what it all means.

Do highly-educated women opt out of the workforce because feminism has afforded them the choice of wholly embracing motherhood? Or because making partner at the firm just wasn't all it was supposed to be?

New research has isolated at least one factor contributing to the decision-making process of the roughly 30 per cent of highly-educated women who opt out: Husbands who get big pay bumps.

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The Wall Street Journal's Rachel Emma Silverman points to a forthcoming study from the U.S. Federal Reserve, which links "a decline in well-educated, married women in the U.S. workforce to an increase in salaries among high earners, particularly for men."

"In the last 20 years, wages for highly educated males increased so much that they dwarfed the family's second income, usually the one of their wives," she quotes study co-author Stefania Albanesi, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and one of the study's authors.

Ms. Albanesi also said that many of these women leave the workforce when their children are in school, not when they're infants.

Over at Forbes, writer Meghan Casserly recently pointed out that when women choose to leave the workplace, it's often more about the place they're leaving than the home they'll be devoted to.

She looks to Pamela Stone, the author of Opting Out? and professor of sociology at Hunter College, who says many women fool themselves about why they're really leaving work. Ms. Stone found that even successful women who had leverage at the office said "that they were mommy-tracked or saw their careers derailed," Ms. Casserly writes.

"They describe the decision as a choice," Ms. Stone told her, "But in the end it was a highly conflicted choice and truly a last resort."

In your experience, why do women opt out of the workforce?

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