Staying At Home

<B>Lesley Stahl</B> Reports On 15% Increase In Number Of Moms Who Do

Look around these days, and you'll find women in positions of real power: a woman at the helm of the National Security Council, two Supreme Court justices, and female board members of every Fortune 100 company.

It's just as it was supposed to be 40 years after women got in the front door.

But look for the women of the next generation -- the ones everyone assumed would follow in droves behind them, and you're likely to find many of them walking right back out and staying at home.

Lisa Beattie Frelinghuysen was on her way to the very top of the legal profession. At Stanford Law School, she was president of the law review. She went to work for a top law firm, and she clerked at the Supreme Court for Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But after she had her first baby seven years ago, she left, and never went back. Correspondent Lesley Stahl reports on this story that aired last October.

"I know myself, and I know that when I'm working at something, I work hard. When I was at the law review, I was working until midnight every night. And my husband started a surgical residency where he was completely unavailable," recalls Frelinghuysen.

"I was afraid that if I was working, there would be no parent there with the children. And I wanted to experience getting to know my children, being there in a consistent way."

She's hardly alone. Every Wednesday morning, a church in suburban Maryland is filled with professional women who have chosen to step out of the full-time work force to spend time raising children. They have organized a lecture series for intellectual stimulation.

Tori Hall, a former analyst with the Congressional Budget Office, and Sheilah Eisel, once a top sales representative for Oracle, come each week. They, along with Ann Geldzahler, a Yale graduate and lawyer, are all stay-at-home moms.

"The bottom line was, it was an emotional decision not an intellectual one," says Hall. "It doesn't make sense to give up a great job that pays a lot of money and has a lot of satisfaction for myself, just to walk away from that."

"I think about it for a little, and then I think I just, I love what I'm doing for right now. I do," says Geldzahler.

"I would say the first six months there were days that I had serious doubts, did I make the right decision," says Eisel. "Now, there's like bumps in the road but I'm very glad that I'm staying at home."

Could it really be that this generation of women, the first to achieve success without having to fight for it, is now walking away, willingly, and without regrets? Census bureau statistics show a 15 percent increase in the number of stay-at-home moms in less than 10 years.

Linda Hirshman is a lawyer, philosophy professor, and author. She didn't believe it, until she started researching the high-powered couples who announced their weddings in The New York Times in 1996.

"The first man I called answered the phone, and I told him what I was doing, and I said, 'Where's your wife?' And he said 'She's at home in Brooklyn taking care of our daughter.' And it turns out, so are all but 15 percent of the women I interviewed," says Hirshman. "Eighty-five percent of the women in my sample are staying home either full-time or part-time."

She's still in the early stages of her research, but the trend has been documented by other studies. And she's convinced it's going to be the 1950s all over again.

Why does it matter?

"These are the women that would have gone into the jobs that run our world. These were the women who would eventually have become senators, governors. These women would have been in the pipeline to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies," says Hirshman.