Weisshaar, K. (2018). From Opt Out to Blocked Out: The Challenges for Labor Market Re-entry after Family-Related Employment Lapses. American Sociological Review, 83(1), 34–60. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122417752355

In today’s labor market, the majority of individuals experience a lapse in employment at some point in their careers, most commonly due to unemployment from job loss or leaving work to care for family or children. Existing scholarship has studied how unemployment affects subsequent career outcomes, but the consequences of temporarily “opting out” of work to care for family are relatively unknown. In this article, I ask: how do “opt out” parents fare when they re-enter the labor market? I argue that opting out signals a violation of ideal worker norms to employers—norms that expect employees to be highly dedicated to work—and that this signal is distinct from two other types of résumé signals: signals produced by unemployment due to job loss and the signal of motherhood or fatherhood. Using an original survey experiment and a large-scale audit study, I test the relative strength of these three résumé signals. I find that mothers and fathers who temporarily opted out of work to care for family fared significantly worse in terms of hiring prospects, relative to applicants who experienced unemployment due to job loss and compared to continuously employed mothers and fathers. I examine variation in these signals’ effects across local labor markets, and I find that within competitive markets, penalties emerged for continuously employed mothers and became even greater for opt out fathers. This research provides a causal test of the micro- and macro-level demand-side processes that disadvantage parents who leave work to care for family. This is important because when opt out applicants are prevented from re-entering the labor market, employers reinforce standards that exclude parents from full participation in work.