Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to address the idea of “opting out” for married professional women by presenting a conceptual investigation into the impact that a woman's identity and social networks have in shaping her decisions surrounding career exit. A model is developed and intended to help researchers in this area move beyond existing frameworks when attempting to explain and predict women's career exit.
Design/methodology/approach – Research from the identity, social networks, turnover, and careers literatures was analyzed and integrated to put forth a new theoretical lens, represented by the conceptual model developed in this paper, that helps to explain married professional women's career exit.
Findings – Development of the model reveals a complex, reciprocal relationship between a woman's identity and her social network and depicts how these factors act in concert to shape women's decisions regarding career exit or “opting out.” This model also highlights the importance of structural constraints shaping a woman's social network, moderators impacting the relationship between a woman's identity and career exit behaviors, and outcomes of career exit.
Originality/value – Although identity is a fundamental element of career development and relationships with others serve as an origin of self and source of self-understanding, the integration of these perspectives has been conspicuously absent from research on women's career exit. Examining the convergence of identity and social networks and the reciprocal relationship these constructs have on career phenomena advances our knowledge of why married professional women choose to “opt out” or exit their careers.