Do City Moms Have An Easier Time
Returning to Work?
The Wall Street Journal
By Jennifer Merritt
Is it easier to rejoin the workforce if you live in a city?
An article in the August issue of Time Out NY: Kids (not yet available online) argues that staying home with your kids for a few years isn’t as much of a career-killer for city moms as it might be for those who live in far-off suburbs. (The article doesn’t have anything to say about stay-at-home fathers.)
The idea comes from a book slated for release in September called
,” which profiles women who’ve successfully ramped their careers back up after several years away — including a lawyer who took a five-year leave after her third child was born and recently made partner at a large law firm. Another woman left finance for 10 years but is now vice president at a venture capital firm.
I spoke with the book’s author, Emma Gilbey Keller, who says the book is her own comeback, something sparked by a desire to restart her career as she saw her husband’s (he’s Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times) taking off. Ms. Gilbey Keller
contends that both city and small-town mothers have an easier time recreating careers after time at home, largely because they’ve eliminated a huge stumbling block to balancing family and work: the commute.
Another upside for city women, she says, is that because of their children they “have a new network of friends” and “more human contact,” on a consistent, regular basis both at the playground and, if you live in an apartment building, right next door. “So, you have more opportunities to run your ideas around people — and that’s essential to what networking is. The first step is to have an idea of what you want to do [in your comeback] and then talk to your friends about it.” What’s more, these moms regularly run into working mothers at the playground and play groups or classes on weekends or at night — and that presents an opportunity to network for a comeback.
Ms. Gilbey Keller also argues that women in cities like New York and also small towns with a mix of commerce and neighborhoods, where everything is close and compact, can get places quicker than, say women in close-in suburbs of Los Angeles or Chicago or the further-out suburbs of New York. It’s not that those women don’t interact, but the distance to travel to parks and activities often prevents the kind of chit-chat and lingering that happens in cities and small locales. And, Ms. Gilbey Keller says, women in small towns, like a doctor she interviewed for the book, can typically arrange their lives — work, childcare, home, and other necessities — within a 5 or 10 mile radius. Another benefit to small towns, she says, “It’s safer and kids can do things by themselves sooner” like walking to the library or going to friends’ homes at a younger age, easing pressure on mothers returning to work.
Of course, anyone who has ever taken a career break or detour knows it’s not that easy and other reviews of Ms. Gilbey Keller’s book point out that most of the women she profiles struggled in their own way and had to persevere to get back into their careers. But, it’s also one of the first books I’ve heard of that looks at women in hard-charging careers who’ve managed to come back and do well. And it’s certainly the first time I’ve thought about the city/small town paradigm.
Readers, what do you think? Do city and small town moms who’ve opted out of the workforce for a few years have an easier time returning and rebuilding?