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When we began interviewing our former classmates at Northwestern, we expected to encounter a few stay-at-home mothers. Even though no one in college had explicitly stated that they planned on stopping work to raise children, we understood that many women make this choice for a range of reasons. The Pew Research Center reports that 10 percent of highly educated mothers (those who earned a master’s degree or greater) stay home. We found that for the 37 women in our sorority’s 1993 graduating class, the percent was more than double: One-quarter are at home raising children—10 people, six of whom hold advanced degrees. These numbers surprised us, to put it mildly. We weren’t the only ones.

Each of the women in this group had been on a successful track after leaving Northwestern, and wanted and intended to have a career after having kids. They were a television writer, teacher, opera singer, public relations manager, lawyer, management consultant, fundraiser and financial adviser, among other professions. Many described their decision to stay home as something that came as a complete surprise.


That becoming a mother changes one’s worldview isn’t news. But while some women had their worlds rocked and then picked themselves up, put on their business casual, and went back to the office, others decided to upend their careers and refashion themselves as full-time mothers. What accounted for the vastly different reactions to the same life-changing event?

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