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Becoming mothers and fathers: Parenthood, gender, and the division of labor

Gender & Society; Thousand Oaks; Dec 1997; Laura Sanchez; Elizabeth Thomson;
Volume: 11
Issue: 6
Start Page: 747-772
ISSN: 08912432
Subject Families & family life
Terms: Parents & parenting
Sex roles
Polls & surveys
A study used two waves of the National Survey of Families and Households to examine the effect of the transition to parenthood on the
division of labor among married couples, hypothesizing that parenthood would produce a more differentiated gender division of labor.
Full Text:
Copyright Sage Publications, Inc. Dec
This study used two waves of the National Survey of Families and Households (1987 to 1988 and 1992 to 1994) to examine the effect of the
transition to parenthood on the division of labor among married couples, hypothesizing that parenthood would produce a more differentiated
gender division of labor, but that attitudes and preparental division of labor would moderate parenthood There were no effects of
parenthood nor direct or moderating effects of gender attitudes on husbands' employment or housework hours, with the exception that
fathering more than one child results in slightly longer employment hours. Motherhood increases wives' housework hours and reduces
employment hours. Wives' traditional gender attitudes reduce their employment, but not their housework Women married to full-time
breadwinners have the largest reductions in employment after motherhood. Last, wives' initial economic dependency increases wives'
subsequent housework and husbands' employment. Parenthood crystallizes a gendered division of labor, largely by reshaping wives', not
husbands', routine.
Feminist and family scholarship has documented a resurgence in theoretical and empirical work on motherhood and fatherhood (Adams
1995; Atkinson and Blackwelder 1993; LaRossa and Reitzes 1995; Marsiglio 1993; Pleck 1985; Ross 1995; Rowbotham 1989).
Contemporary research on parenthood includes multifaceted analyses of how women and men interpret and express femininity and
masculinity through their participation in parenting, employment, and family work; construct their visions of gendered obligations and
pleasures through parenting; and invest family tasks with sexual politics (Bernard 1975; Daly 1993; DeVault 1990; Gerson 1993; Oakley
1974; Shaw 1988). Much of this research indicates that married women and men are reshaping employment and housework to share a more
equitable, equal division of labor and, despite the demands of parenthood, are incorporating their views about egalitarian or traditional
notions of work in their labor choices.
This scholarship suggests that men are performing more housework and family work because of a heightened social and personal
commitment to fathering, sometimes growing out of gender politics and contested traditionalism in personal relationships, but more often
out of a widespread cultural movement to valorize non-gender-specific parenting and intimate fathering (Atkinson and Blackwelder 1993;
Coltrane 1989,1996; Gerson 1993; Snarey 1993). And women are maintaining high levels of homemaking as part of mothering, while
struggling to minimize the disruptiveness of parenthood on their employment histories (Hochschild 1989; Spain and Bianchi 1996).
We enter this debate by questioning whether women and men really are becoming more egalitarian in their division of labor particularly
when they enter parenthood. When couples become parents, they must reorganize their division of labor to accommodate the new and
demanding task of raising a child. Contemporary couples face conflicting cultural messages about how they ought to reorganize as well as
structural barriers to a completely egalitarian division of labor. Sociocultural norms and structural constraints remain such that couples may
continue to experience the transition to parenthood in deeply gendered ways, women continuing to have primary responsibility for home
and children, men for earning income.
Our study makes two contributions to previous research. First, the two-wave National Survey of Families and Households allows us to test
causal models of parenthood and couples' subsequent housework and employment. Second, we use a couple-level analysis to examine how
both partners' characteristics and orientations moderate the reorganization of labor following parenthood. In the following sections, we
review major findings from cross-sectional and qualitative studies and then describe our hypotheses about the gendered effect of the
transition to parenthood on women's and men's marital division of labor.
Cross-sectional studies show a direct association between parenthood and gender-traditional divisions of labor. Mothers work far fewer
hours in employment and far more hours in housework (including child care) than child-free wives (Backett 1982; Berk 1985; Daniels and
Weingarten 1988; Ehrensaft 1987; Shelton 1992). Fathers are employed longer hours than child-free husbands (Backett 1982; Daniels and
Weingarten 1988) but spend about the same time in housework as do child-free husbands (Ehrensaft 1987).
Fathers who contribute the most to housework and child care are those whose wives are employed full-time and have very young or several
children at home (Berk 1985; Coverman 1985; Crouter et al. 1987; Darling-Fisher and Tiedje 1990; Leslie, Anderson, and Branson 1991;
Peterson and Gerson 1992). Kamo (1991) finds a U-shaped relationship between numbers of children and fathers' relative contribution to
housework, with fathers participating the least if they have three children. But even more active fathers are likely to perform provisional,
discretionary, and secondary family tasks in comparison to their wives (Ehrensaft 1987; Oakley 1974). Regardless of the number of hours
of mothers' employment, wives are responsible for most of the parental time spent in housework and child care (see Spitze 1988).
An important vein of research coming out of cross-sectional studies focuses on gender attitudes. The direct association is clear-traditional
gender attitudes are associated with more traditional divisions of labor (Barnett and Baruch 1987; Coltrane and Ishii-Kuntz 1992; Hardesty
and Bokemeier 1989; Perry-Jenkins and Crouter 1990). Scholars disagree about whether women's or men's views have the greater influence
on the couple's behavior (Barnett and Baruch 1987; Baxter 1992; Bird, Bird, and Scruggs 1984; Hardesty and Bokemeier 1989; Huber and
Spitze 1983; Hyde, Essex, and Horton 1993; Ishii-Kuntz and Coltrane 1992; Kamo 1988; Perry-Jenkins and Crouter 1990; Pleck 1985; Ross
1987). Much research finds that attitudes affect only one's own labor-with men's attitudes affecting husbands' share of family work and
women's attitudes affecting wives' (Baxter 1992; Huber and Spitze 1983; Ross 1987), but some research finds that both partners' attitudes
influence wives' and husbands' labor (Barnett and Baruch 1987; Hardesty and Bokemeier 1989; Kamo 1988).
Gender attitudes may also moderate the effects of parenthood on the division of labor. Husbands and wives must be able to "see" the social
construction of gender in mothering and fathering to organize parenthood in an egalitarian way. Thompson labels this understanding of the
social construction of gender "gender consciousness" and says that it "is central to whether or not partners, particularly women, push for
change in their marriages" (1993, 566). Ishii-Kuntz and Coltrane use the term initiative to describe the considerable psychic and material
work needed to overcome "the context of a symbolic system that defines men and women as essentially different" (1992, 643). And Komter
discusses how "real changes in marital power can occur only if husbands and wives recognize their stereotyped self-concepts and ways of
seeing each other. . . [and] lay bare the sociocultural and psychic roots of gender inequality" (1989, 214).
Many of these cross-sectional studies are based on large, representative samples and control for experiences and characteristics that might
create a spurious association between parenthood and the division of labor. However, the cross-sectional samples could have associations
because of unmeasured differences selecting some couples into parenthood and others into nonparenthood. Panel studies sometimes avoid
this limitation but generally draw on nonrepresentative samples. Some panel studies also have selection problems, drawing samples from
lists of couples in which the wife is already pregnant or attempting to become pregnant.
Despite these limitations, panel studies consistently show that wives and husbands become more traditional in housework and employment
patterns after the birth of their child (Cowan et al. 1985; Cowan 1988; LaRossa and LaRossa 1981). Wives' housework expands greatly as
does the time they divert to child care (Cowan et al. 1985; LaRossa and LaRossa 1981). In comparison, the effect of parenthood on
husbands' family work is not as large (Cowan 1988). There is evidence that fathers increase their employment and commitment to work
(Cowan 1988; Daniels and Weingarten 1988) and that they reduce their time in housework as they increase their time in child care (Cowan
Changes in women's and men's resources, the timing of life events, and the rising cultural importance of hands-on fathering provide a basis
for household gender equality (Bianchi 1995; Waite and Goldscheider 1992). On the other hand, several barriers remain. First, a significant
proportion of men continue to identify themselves as parenting and family work helpers, rather than primary parents and family work
partners, in part because of conflicts between balancing primary breadwinning and coparenting (Gerson 1993; LaRossa and LaRossa 1981;
Thompson 1993). Second, a segment of men continue to use male privilege to avoid the most distasteful family and parenting tasks, and
some women are reluctant to give up status as primary parents and family work managers (Coltrane 1989, 1996; Hochschild 1989; Oakley
1974; Thompson 1991). Third, women seem to feel a lower sense of entitlement to equal sharing of family work (DeVault 1990;
Hochschild 1989; Major 1987), and men seem to expect women's housework as a symbolic display of nurturance and dependence (Berk
1985; Brines 1994). Last, little social support exists to facilitate egalitarian employment, housework, and parenting (Coltrane 1989;
Ehrensaft 1987; Hochschild 1989; LaRossa and LaRossa 1981; Thompson 1993).
Given these barriers, an equal division of family labor after parenthood may depend on the couple's ability to rework traditional
expectations about masculine and feminine marital responsibilities. Two primary indicators of wives' and husbands' willingness to rework
traditional parental divisions of labor are their preparental gender attitudes and preparental division of labor. Egalitarian attitudes could help
the couple resist pressures toward a gender-traditional division of labor after parenthood. Preparental divisions of labor in which the wife
engages in more employment and the husband in more housework may foster a commitment to equality in the relationship. In addition, the
couple's dependence on the wife's income may make it harder for her to reduce employment after parenthood, resulting in greater pressures
on her husband to meet increased family work demands.
Motherhood, Fatherhood, and the Primacy of Tradition
Our first, general hypothesis is that parenthood should shift couples toward a gendered division of labor-less employment and more family
work for women, more employment and less family work for men. As a corollary, we expect shifts in mothers' labor to be greater than
shifts in fathers' labor. Since the tasks of child rearing fall within women's socially prescribed primary responsibilities, unless fathers
equally share family work, new mothers may substantially reduce their employment to compensate for the demands of the children. We
also hypothesize that having a second child promotes a very traditional division of labor, by strongly reinforcing symbolic and material
demands on new parents.
Gender Attitudes and the Couple's Vision of Parental Responsibilities
Egalitarian attitudes should mitigate the pressure to conform to a traditional division of labor after parenthood. We expect that the more
egalitarian the heterosexual couple's gender attitudes prior to parenthood, the smaller the shift toward a gendered division of labor. This will
be evidenced primarily in smaller shifts in women's employment and family work among egalitarian couples. In addition, any anticipated
increases in employment and decreases in family work should be less for men in egalitarian couples than for men in traditional couples.
Among egalitarian men, family work may even increase if gender attitudes incorporate the idea of male coparenting.
We also expect that the effects of parenthood on wives' employment and family work should be more strongly influenced by women's
attitudes, while effects on men's employment and family work should be more strongly influenced by men's attitudes. As a result, the
smallest shifts toward a gendered division of labor should be found for couples who share egalitarian attitudes, the greatest for couples who
share traditional attitudes about men's and women's family responsibilities.
Couples' attitude disagreement may be a critical moderator of the effects of the transition to parenthood. Because we expect women's labor
to be most changed by parenthood, we hypothesize that as wives enact their egalitarian ideals, couples in which the wife is egalitarian and
the husband traditional should shift less toward a traditional division of labor than couples in which the wife is traditional and the husband
egalitarian. Disagreements about gendered family responsibilities may, however, be felt as a threat to marital stability; thus, egalitarian
women married to traditional men may reduce their postparental employment, rather than spark discord by asking husbands to increase
family work. Last, because gendered family norms are so entrenched and thus egalitarian divisions of labor require vast social support, we
expect partners whose attitudes differ to be much more similar in their postparental division of labor to partners sharing traditional attitudes
than to partners sharing egalitarian attitudes. Couples may need an egalitarian commitment by both partners before the traditionalizing force
of parenthood is lessened.
Preparental Work Habits and Future Parental Work Choices
Labor choices prior to parenthood should have some continuing influence on postparental divisions of labor. More egalitarian divisions of
labor prior to parenthood should lessen shifts toward a gender-traditional division of labor. Again, we expect that the effects of parenthood
on wives' employment and family work should be more strongly moderated by women's preparental activities, while effects on husbands'
employment and family work should be more strongly moderated by men's preparental activities. Last, the lack of coherent social norms
supporting women's employment and men's family work should make those preparental activities have the weakest moderating effects on
postparental divisions of labor.
The Data and Measures
We use the National Survey of Families and Households 1987-88 (NSFH1; Sweet, Bumpass, and Call 1988) and its follow-up survey from
1992-94 (NSFH2). NSFH1 surveyed a nationally representative sample of households, interviewing a designated adult primary respondent
and the partners of cohabiting or married persons. NSFH2 attempted to interview all primary respondents and partners, whether or not the
couple remained together and whether or not the partner participated in NSFH1. Our sample begins with responding NSFH1 married
couples in which the wife was age 40 or younger and neither spouse yet had children (n = 600). Information was obtained for 531 (88.5
percent) of these couples in the second survey from one or the other spouse or both. Of these couples, 107 were no longer married or living
together (i.e., separated or divorced). Preliminary analyses indicate few significant associations between housework and employment
measures at the first survey and nonresponse or marital disruption at the second survey. Among the couples remaining together, we have
data from both spouses at both surveys for 374 couples (88 percent of couples known to be together at the second survey, 62 percent of all
eligible couples at the first survey). Random item nonresponse and coding problems in the NFSH2 fertility histories reduced the analytic
sample size to 337. In this sample, 62.3 percent of couples had at least one child between surveys, and 36.8 percent had two or more
Division of Labor
We model the division of labor at NSFH2 as a set of four measures of time use, simultaneously regressed on parenthood and other
independent variables (see statistical analysis below). Two continuous variables measure each spouse's weekly hours in employment. Two
continuous variables measure each spouse's weekly hours in housework.' The housework measures are summed indexes of women's and
men's time in the following chores: (1) preparing meals; (2) washing dishes and cleaning up after meals; (3) cleaning house; (4) outdoor and
other household maintenance tasks; (5) shopping for groceries and other household goods; (6) washing, ironing, mending; (7) paying bills
and keeping financial records; (8) automobile maintenance and repair; and (9) driving other household members to work, school, or other
activities. The lagged preparental division of labor measures mirror the dependent variables and are constructed from partners' self-reports
in the first survey.
Note that these measures tap only routine maintenance housework. We would have preferred to include measures of partners' time spent in
child care, but such data are not available in the NSFH2 because of a skip-map error that excluded eligible respondents from the interview
schedule for the child care module. Our main models therefore underestimate women's and men's time spent in family work. We address
this limitation by analyzing a comparable sample of married couples at NSF1 to examine housework, child care, and employment divisions
of labor for married parents and nonparents. This cross-sectional analysis allows us to evaluate the extent of underestimation in our panel
data. We construct weekly hours spent in child care by multiplying by seven responses to the following NSFH 1 question about caring for a
focal child aged 0 to 4 years: "About how many hours in a typical day do you spend taking care of (child's) physical needs, including
feeding, bathing, dressing, and putting (him or her) to bed?" Secondary respondents were not asked this question, so these supplementary
analyses refer to married individuals rather than couples.
Wife's Economic Dependency
It may not be the actual hours of employment that represent the couple's division of labor prior to parenthood but the relative proportion of
income provided by that employment. The larger the wife's share of couple income, the more difficult it will be for the couple to do without
that income or for the husband to increase his work hours to compensate for the loss. Our measure of economic dependency is computed as
the difference between the wife's and the husband's earnings in 1986 divided by the sum of their earnings. The measure's theoretical range is
from -1 (husband has no earnings) to 0 (wife's and husbands earnings are equal) to +1 (wife has no earnings).
Gender Attitudes
Six items from the first survey measure partners' attitudes toward traditional gender arrangements. Three items elicit approval or
disapproval of "mothers who work full-time when their youngest child is younger than age 5," "children younger than 3 years old being
cared for all day in a day care center," and "mothers who work part-time when their youngest child is younger than age 5." The other items
seek agreement or disagreement with the statements "It is much better for everyone if the man earns the main living and the woman takes
care of the home and family"; "Preschool children are likely to suffer if their mother is employed"; and "If a husband and a wife both work
full-time, they should share household tasks equally." The disapproval items were scored on a 7-point scale and the disagreement items on a
5-point scale. We recoded indicators to represent increasingly traditional attitudes, standardized each item, and averaged the standardized
scores. The alpha reliability coefficients for the gender attitudes index were .75 for wives and .76 for husbands.2
We created a couple attitude measure by assigning wives and husbands into egalitarian, neutral, and traditional categories based on breaks
of half a standard deviation around the mean.3 The measure classifies couples as (1) both partners traditional, (2) both partners neutral, (3)
both partners egalitarian, (4) the husband alone is egalitarian, (5) the wife alone is egalitarian, and (6) other combinations.
Transition to Parenthood
We measure the transition to parenthood as the addition of a child through birth or adoption between surveys. We distinguish between the
effects of a first versus second or higher order births. Two dummy variables, one for any birth, a second for two or more births, were
constructed. When both variables are in a model, the second contrast-coded dummy variable represents the additional effect of a second
birth, net of the parenthood effect. We do not count pregnancies at first or second survey as a completed change in parental status because
couples may not yet have modified their division of labor in anticipation of the arrival of the new infant.4
Life Course and Socioeconomic Controls
We include several indicators of the couple's life course and social and economic status. Such circumstances may account for associations
between parenthood and the division of labor, even when preparental gender attitudes and preparental divisions of labor are controlled. Age
at the first survey is represented by the wife's age in years and two dummy variables indicating whether the husband is older than the wife
by more than two years or whether the husband is younger than the wife by more than a year. Race/ethnicity is represented by a dummy
variable indicating whether both wife and husband are non-Hispanic White. The limited sample size precludes a further refinement of this
indicator. A dummy variable indicates whether the primary respondent for the couple is female. Previous marital history is represented by a
dummy variable indicating that the current union is a remarriage for one or both spouses. Marital duration is computed as total years of
marriage at the first survey. The couple's educational attainment measure includes six categories representing couples in which (1) both
partners have a high school degree or equivalency, (2) both partners have some post-high school education, (3) both partners have at least a
bachelor's degree, (4) the husband alone has at least a bachelor's degree, (5) the wife alone has at least a bachelor's degree, and (6) a residual
educational attainment category. We measure family income as the natural log of the family's total income in 1986. The family income
measure includes income from all sources (i.e., assets, other household members' contributions, salaries, wages, etc.). Appendix Table 1
presents descriptive statistics for variables measured at NSFH1.
Statistical Analyses
To estimate the effect of parenthood on couples' division of labor, we must control for the propensity of couples to have children that may
also be associated with their preferred division of labor. The value of our panel data is that we cannot only control for such variables as
education, race/ethnicity, and gender attitudesknown to be associated with both the division of labor and childbearing-but also for the
couples' earlier division of labor. Couples who are most likely to have children may already have established a more traditional division of
labor prior to childbirth and simply maintain that pattern after children are born. To distinguish such effects from the causal effect of
children on couples' division of labor, we use what are called lagged-endogenous-variable models of couples' employment and household
work at the second survey. By including the lagged (time 1) version of each dependent variable, we can interpret the effects of other
variables in the model as effects on changes in the dependent variable from time 1 to time 2.5 The combined influence of parenthood on the
division of labor at NSFH2 is represented by four simultaneous effects-on wife's employment, wife's family work, husband's employment,
and husband's family work.
We want to exclude from estimates of parenthood effects any sources of correlation among partners' employment hours and household
work hours. To do this, we estimate models with seemingly unrelated regressions, which allow for an unspecified residual correlation
between each pair of dependent variables. Thus, what appear to be individual-level models of partner's employment or household work are
really estimated for the couple simultaneously. This technique is suitable for household data where the error disturbances for the multiple
equations are assumed to be correlated because of unmeasured characteristics within each household. Besides providing a more efficient
estimator than does generalized least squares regression, this technique allows restrictions on coefficients across equations-thus, having an
important similarity to structural equation models (see Manser and Brown 1977 or Judge et al. 1980).
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Table 1 presents descriptive statistics for couples' division of labor at time 1 and time 2 by transition to parenthood. At time 1, there are no
large differences between couples who will and will not become parents by time 2 (first four rows of Table 1). In all three groups, wives
contribute more than 40 percent of the couple's total employment hours and more than 60 percent of the total family work hours. The total
workweek (employment plus family work) is about the same for wives and husbands. Minor differences are likely to be due to differences
in age or education or other control variables that are associated with the division of labor and future parenthood. Couples do not seem to
choose housework and employment allocations in anticipation of parenthood.
Among couples who do not become parents, labor allocations are relatively stable across surveys (column 1). Couples who become parents
between surveys experience a dramatic shift, however, in the division of labor. After parenthood, mothers of one child contribute 38 percent
of the couple's employment hours and almost two-thirds of the family work hours. With two children the proportions shift to 22 percent
and 70 percent, respectively. Husbands who become fathers of two or more children seem to work slightly longer employment hours than
husbands who do not become fathers or who become fathers of one child. Wives who become mothers of two or more children perform
about one-third of the employment of wives without children and twice the housework. Women's time allocations show a greater change
than men's upon transition to parenthood.
Our multivariate analyses proceed through several steps. To test potential effects of parenthood on the couple's division of labor, we
estimated goodness-of-fit statistics in two ways (analyses not shown). First, to test whether effects of parenthood are spurious because of
associations with other factors, we estimated a series of nested models, comparing bivariate models of parenthood with models that included
time 1 measures of the division of labor, wife's economic dependency, gender attitudes, and control variables.6 Across models, the
transition to parenthood coefficients and their standard deviations remain virtually unchanged. Second, we estimated our full additive
models and tested changes in goodness of fit by removing factors separately. The transition to parenthood did not explain significant
incremental variance in either husbands' housework or employment. For wives, the transition to parenthood measures provides the strongest
improvement to the overall fit of both the housework and employment models.
Table 2 presents the simultaneous regression equations for the final additive housework models. As hypothesized, the transition to
parenthood is associated with a significant increase in wives' housework-about two full-time days per weekwhile husbands' housework
remains unchanged. A model constraining the coefficients for parenthood to be equal for wives' and husbands' household work
significantly reduced the model's fit. That is, the observed differences in parenthood effects for wives and for husbands are statistically
significant. For wives, the first birth has the primary effect on labor allocations. The coefficient for the effect of having at least one child is
large and significant, while the contrast-coded coefficient distinguishing the effect of higher order births is not.
Table 3 tells a different story for spouses' employment. Becoming a first-time mother decreases wives' employment by a full workday per
week, and having two or more children within the four- to seven-year span reduces wives' employment by an additional 12 hours per week.
Whereas parenthood does not explain significant incremental variance in husbands' employment, the parenthood coefficients suggest that
two or more births increase husbands' employment by about 3 hours per week.
We tested a model that constrained effects of parenthood to have opposite effects for wives' and husbands' employment. We specified that
new fathers increased their employment hours to compensate for the reduced employment of mothers. The constraints significantly worsen
model fit. Reduced maternal employment is not accompanied by a parallel increase in paternal employment.
The couple's prior division of labor continues to exert effects on the division of labor at time 2, net of parenthood effects. As shown in the
second panels of Tables 2 and 3, in most cases the lagged dependent variable has the only significant effect-wife's housework at time 1
increases her housework at time 2, husband's housework at time 1 increases his housework at time 2, and wife's employment at time 1
increases her employment at time 2. Husband's employment at time 2 is, however, increased by both spouses' employment at time 1,
perhaps in response to consumption demands established by two-earner couples.
Wife's economic dependency at the first survey has very gender-traditional effects on the division of labor at time 2. The greater the wife's
dependency, the greater her housework hours and the greater her husband's employment hours at the second survey. Gender attitudes do not
affect wives' or husbands' housework. When both couples have traditional attitudes, the wife is employed fewer hours at the second survey,
compared to couples who share egalitarian attitudes. The only other significant effect of gender attitudes was reduced husbands'
employment among couples who were both neutral, compared to egalitarian couples.'
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Several control variables also exerted direct effects on the division of labor at the second survey: net of division of labor, wife's economic
dependency, gender attitudes, and the transition to parenthood. Wives' housework at the second survey is associated negatively with
education. Wives in couples in which either partner has a college education perform 6 to 10 fewer hours of housework per week than wives
in less well educated couples. Husbands in White non-Hispanic couples perform significantly less housework, which is consistent with
research showing greater housework participation by men among racial/ethnic minorities (Beckett and Smith 1981; Bergen 1991).
Wives' employment at the second survey is associated negatively with age, positively with having a younger husband. The negative effect
of wife's age on husbands' employment represents the effect of husband's age, since spouses' ages are highly correlated. Husbands in
couples with higher education work longer hours at the second survey.
Our results indicate that wives' housework and employment are more strongly affected by the transition to parenthood than husbands'
housework and employment, net of life course and socioeconomic characteristics and preparental gender attitudes and couple's prior
division of labor. Among contemporary couples, the transition to parenthood still has greater implications for changing married women's
daily routines than men's. Moreover, the overall model fit suggests that the parenthood and other controls explain a greater proportion of
women's housework and employment than men's. The adjusted explained variance is .26 for wives' housework and employment and .14 and
.12, respectively, for husbands' housework and employment. This latter finding is consistent with a broad body of research and indicates
that much remains to be known about the determinants that influence men's time allocations (Atkinson and Huston 1984; Barnett and
Baruch 1987; Bird, Bird, and Scruggs 1984; Blair 1994; Blair and Lichter 1991; Brines 1994; Godwin 1991; Marini and Shelton 1993).
Parenthood and Gender
We tested potential interactions between parenthood transitions and the division of labor, economic dependency, and gender attitudes at the
first survey. Because we were unable to obtain model convergence with all four dependent variables simultaneously, interaction tests were
specified separately for spouses' housework and for spouses' employment and were conducted separately for division of labor, economic
dependency, and gender attitudes.
The interaction models for parenthood effects on wives' housework and husbands' employment do not explain significant incremental
variance. The increased housework of mothers and the relative stability of fathers' employment and housework do not depend on the
couple's prior division of labor, wife's economic dependency, or gender attitudes at the first survey. Moreover, no interactions were found
for gender attitudes or economic dependency for any of the employment or household work variables. We find a significant interaction
between parenthood and husbands' housework at first survey on husbands' housework at second survey. And we find a significant
interaction between parenthood and husbands' employment at first survey on wives' employment. Figure 1 presents husbands' predicted
housework for combinations of parenthood and first-survey housework hours. We calculate these estimates by setting all control variables at
their mean and then using values of men's housework at the mean and 10 hours below and above that mean. For husbands initially below
the average, the transition to parenthood is associated with a slight increase in housework compared with nonparenthood, with the
parenthood effect tempered at higher order births. For men with high initial housework hours, the transition to fatherhood is associated with
a decrease of about 31/2 hours in housework, with a U-shaped effect for higher order births. Fathers of two or more children and husbands
without children spend about the same time in housework (i.e., 23-24 hours per week). For husbands who initially spent a mean amount of
weekly time in housework, there seems to be no effect of parenthood on housework at second survey; they increase their housework to
about 18 hours, regardless of parental status.
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Figure 2 presents wives' predicted employment for combinations of parenthood and husbands' first-survey employment hours. For women
whose husbands were employed less than full-time at the first survey, the birth of one child has little effect on employment, while having
two or more children reduces employment to about 40 percent of the nonmothers' level. If the prospective father was employed more than
40 hours per week, a first birth reduces wives' employment by about 11 hours per week, but having two or more children reduces
employment to about one-fourth the level of nonmothers. First-time motherhood has significant negative effects on employment primarily
for women whose husbands were full-time or over-time earners. But more quickly paced parenthood transitions strongly reduce mothers'
employment, especially for wives of full-time or over-time employed husbands.
Child Care and a Widened Family Work Gap
Our multivariate results demonstrate that the transition to motherhood is associated with a great increase in wives' housework and a
reduction in their paid employment. The aggregate statistics in Table I indicate that, whereas parenthood substantially reorganizes women's
time allocations, wives in couples who had two or more children between surveys have a potential leisure advantage of 10 hours over their
These aggregate statistics point to a serious limitation in our housework measure. We examined only routine household maintenance and
consumer tasks, work certainly increased by women's childbearing and child rearing, but we did not examine time spent directly in child
care. Our housework findings are important because they show that contemporary social standards still equate motherhood with primary
responsibility for household services. But a more complete representation of the effect of the transition to parenthood on couple's division of
labor would obviously include child care.
Our final analysis examines the association between parenthood and spouses' total family work-including housework and child care. As
noted earlier, a skipmap error in NSFH2 precludes an analysis of our focal sample's child care at second survey. We can, however, draw
tentative conclusions about gender differences in child care and family work by a cross-sectional analysis of a comparable sample of
married individuals at first survey. Table 4 presents descriptive statistics on division of labor for couples at the first survey, comparing
child-free couples (those eligible for our panel analysis) with couples who already had one or two children younger than five years of age at
the first survey. This NSFH1 sample includes married individuals whose partner participated in the survey, the wife is age 45 or under, and
the couple does not have any children aged 5 to 18.8
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Figure 1:
The results for housework and employment hours closely match the results for our focal sample in Table 1. But the addition of child care
suggests that the transition to parenthood is associated with a substantial increase in partners' total workweek, with a large gap between
mothers' and fathers' workweeks. For wives, motherhood is associated with an increase in housework and the expansion of one full-time
week's worth of time in child care. Compared to wives without children, mothers of young children spend 21/2 times longer in immediate
family-related maintenance work and child care. For husbands, fatherhood is associated with very little change in housework or
employment, but an increase of about 17 hours per week in child care. Fathers' time spent in child care is less than half of mothers'. These
descriptive statistics emphasize our main finding that new parenthood reorganizes wives' time spent in routine household chores and
employment more so than husbands'. Parenting is associated with a great time crunch for both husbands and wives, ranging from 20 to 40
hours more total work per week than their child-free counterparts. Child-free wives and husbands work about 81/2 hours per day in their
various labors, whereas mothers work 14-hour days and fathers work 11-hour days. Extrapolating this time crunch suggests that mothers of
young children spend more time in combined employment and family work than fathers by up to two full-time weeks per month.
Our couple-level panel analysis shows that women and men differ markedly in allocating time to paid and family work during the early
years of childbearing. We find no effects of new fatherhood on husbands' housework and only a small effect of a second birth on husbands'
employment, but motherhood substantially increases wives' housework and curtails their employment. We thus document that motherhood
is still linked to primary responsibility for household management and domesticity and that contemporary fatherhood has not altered this
This finding is remarkable given recent changes in gender attitudes and women's employment, education, and public activities. England and
Farkas (1986) note that domestic gender relations may resist change, even in periods of rapid change in other social relations. The
incongruity between women's greater social and political equality and continuing parenting, family work, and employment inequality is a
vital social issue. Spain and Bianchi observe that
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Figure 2:
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[w]omen juggle a variety of roles out of preference and necessity. They will become more successful at it the closer society gets to defining
the balancing act as a "family" rather than "women's" issue. Until that time, women will continue to pay a higher price than men for
negotiating the transitions necessary to combine family and employment. (1996, 198-99)
Our analysis indicates that married women still experience the greater shift in labor allocations when children are born to the couple.
The gendered effect of parenthood is even more evident when we consider findings from the cross-sectional analysis that included a
measure of direct child care. Here we find that mothers of young children spend far more time in active work than fathers and child-free
couples, with a very small proportion of that work in paid employment. To the extent that much of women's homemaking and child care
remains "invisible" to those who benefit from the work, mothers of young children are at a severe disadvantage in their marriages (Daniels
1987; DeVault 1990; Thompson 1991). In fact, Zvonkovic et al. note that
[w]hen a couple makes a work-family decision that, to some extent, limits or restricts the wife's paid work, even if this decision is viewed as
temporary and is made for reasons other than conformity to traditional attitudes, the enactment of this decision can serve to sweep the
couple along a sea of traditional cultural attitudes and gendered work force realities. (1996, 99)
We began our study interested in the literature on "gender consciousness" and "initiative" within contemporary marriages (Gerson 1993;
Hochschild 1989; IshiiKuntz and Coltrane 1992; Thompson 1993). We expected that gender consciousness-expressed through preparental
division of labor, wife's economic dependency, and gender attitudes-would have direct and moderating effects on the couple's labor
allocations over time. We found direct effects of the couple's prior labor allocations on subsequent allocations, net of parenthood effects.
We also find a moderating effect of husbands' preparental housework on subsequent housework, with first-time fatherhood increasing
housework for husbands who had previously provided very little household labor and decreasing housework for husbands who had
previously contributed relatively more. It appears that fatherhood reduces variability in men's contributions to household work, through
constructing more rigid gender divisions of labor.
Women whose husbands had been working long hours prior to parenthood experienced the greatest reductions in employment after
parenthood, consistent with the centrality of the husband's breadwinner role in these families. Women with traditional gender attitudes also
had greater reductions in employment than women with egalitarian attitudes, but attitudes did not moderate parenthood effects. These
results show that contemporary marital struggles over fatherhood and motherhood seem negotiated principally through couples' choices
about wives' employment. Current cultural arrangements regarding marriage may yet be so gender-traditional that neither wives nor
husbands feel entitled to share family work or to challenge men's breadwinning responsibilities-even in the face of the complex familial
demands of new parenthood. Gender consciousness among wives and couples may support wives' commitment to employment but not
enable them to relinquish homemaking obligations.
The relatively weak direct effects of gender attitudes on the couple's division of labor in the second survey are also important because a
contrasting body of cross-sectional research finds significant effects of gender attitudes. Our results suggest that the associations noted in
previous research may be spurious.
The pervasiveness of the parenthood effect on women's and men's labor allocations are consistent with multiple bodies of scholarship on
familial inequalities. Entitlement and distributive justice literatures argue that women do not feel entitled to radically challenge the
assumption that they will have primary responsibility for homemaking, especially within a widespread cultural ethic that praises men for
more active child rearing but criticizes women for making "a big deal" out of housework (Hochschild 1989; Major 1987, 1993). The results
here are consistent with research showing "latent power" arrangements in marriage that undermine women's attitudes by encouraging them
to feel that unfair outcomes inevitably arise out of seemingly fair, consensual processes of choice (Komter 1989). And they are consistent
with research suggesting that women's familial dependence draws their interests more closely to men's, thus dampening potential effects of
their attitudes and reinforcing traditional gender relationships (Kane and Sanchez 1994).
Our last finding shows the positive effects of women's economic dependency on wives' subsequent housework and husbands' employment.
We find that women's financial dependence does promote traditional relationships in marriage, consistent with a dynamic that Brines (1994)
labels a "gender display." Women's financial dependency incrementally encourages wives as homemakers and husbands as breadwinners.
Thus, new motherhood and financial dependency set up a process over time that reinforces women's presumed responsibility for housework.
In sum, recent research has suggested that contemporary fatherhood is changing men's relationships to marriage and family work (Cohen
1987; Coltrane 1989; Gerson 1993; Ishii-Kuntz and Coltrane 1992; Pleck 1985; Snarey 1993). This work emphasizes child-centeredness
among new fathers as engendering greater housework involvement (Coltrane 1989). Moreover, the studies suggest that it is not feminist or
egalitarian attitudes that spur this process, but rather men's feelings of compassion, sympathy, and support for their wives arising out of the
experience of fathering and child rearing (Coltrane 1989; Snarey 1993). Our results suggest that this new body of research should be
examined with some reservations. Researchers have documented populations of men who are active, daily household managers,
househusbands, and equal economic coproviders and family comanagers (Coltrane 1989, 1996; Gerson 1993; Hochschild 1989). But it
bears repeating that the modal division of labor in contemporary marriage is more gender-traditional than egalitarian, especially after the
inititation of parenthood.
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AUTHORS' NOTE: Paper presented at the 1996 annual meetings of the Population Association of America, New Orleans, IA, May 9-11.
The research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant SBR-9510584, and computing support was provided by Tulane
University. The National Survey of Families and Households was funded by NIH Grant HD21009, designed by investigators at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison and conducted by the Institute for Survey Research of Temple University. We thank the anonymous
reviewers for helpful suggestions.
1. Note that individuals responding to these types of global summation questions tend to overestimate their time spent in household labor
and child care, especially for tasks that are performed routinely every day (see Marini and Shelton 1993).

2. Preliminary analyses show that the item "sharing housework if both employed" fits the index the most poorly of all the indicators. If this
item were removed, the alpha reliability coefficient of the 5-item index would be .81 for wives and .82 for husbands. However, our final
results are robust regardless of which index is used. Thus, we use the index with the lower reliability because of the consistency of this
indicator with our substantive interests.
3. Our perspective suggests that both partners' characteristics influence how the transition to parenthood affects the gender division of labor.
However, using both partners' individual-level indicators leads to multicollinearity problems, especially for age, education, income, and
attitudes. Thus, we create couple-level measures to assess both level and difference effects for husbands and wives, while minimizing
multicollinearity bias. These couple-level measures have the substantive quality of representing joint combinations of partner characteristics
and thus may indicate couples who have unique responses to the demands of parenthood because of the interactive effect of their shared
experiences or views.
4. Preliminary analyses showed that 15 couples (4.5 percent) had a child within five months after the first interview. These couples are
included in our analysis, with the birth resulting from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFHI) pregnancy counted as the
first birth. We estimated our models without these couples with virtually identical results. At the second survey, 28 wives (8.3 percent) were
pregnant. Of these, 10 were pregnant with their first child, 11 had borne or adopted one child, and 7 had two or more children prior to the
NSFH2 pregnancy. We experimented by recoding couples such that the 10 currently pregnant wives without children were measured as
having completed a transition to parenthood and the 11 currently pregnant mothers of a single child were measured as having two children,
with no substantial change in our results. In our reported analyses, we do not include pregnancies at second survey as an addition of a child.
5. An alternative strategy to the lagged-endogenous-variable models are first-difference models, in which not only the dependent variables
but also the independent variables are measured at two points in time and differences are regressed on differences; in our case, the
"difference" in parenthood would be the same dummy variables, whether the couple had one child or had two or more children between
surveys; that is, the score on parenthood at time I would be 0, so the difference is 1 for those who became a parent of one or of two or more
children. First-difference models are appropriate when all of the independent variables can be presumed causal to the dependent variable.
For example, in the case of income, we theorize a causal effect of income at time I on division of labor at time 2 and parenthood between
surveys; but we would not expect income at time 2 to cause the couple's division of labor at time 2. Similarly, we do not want to assume
that gender attitudes have a causal effect, unless we can measure them prior to the behavior we observe; so we use gender attitudes at time I
as a determinant of parenting and/or division of labor at time 2, but we would not specify gender attitudes at time 2 as a cause of division of
labor at time 2, since they could also result from the couple's employment and household work experiences.
6. In preliminary analyses, we also included a variable measuring predicted likelihood of inclusion in the final sample to determine whether
parenthood or other effects are spurious because of selection into our sample. We used a logit model for our initial NSFHI eligible sample
and regressed all of our time I control variables on a dichotomous variable representing couples who stayed married and supplied sufficient
information to remain in the final effective sample. We then used the logit coefficients to compute a predicted inclusion probability for each
couple based on the couple's characteristics. The predicted inclusion variable did not improve the fit of any of the substantive models
reported below. Our results are therefore not likely to be biased by attrition or selectivity effects occurring between survey waves.
7. We experimented by testing individual-level measures of wife's and husband's gender attitudes in housework and employment equations.
We used indexes that included the "sharing housework" item and excluded it. We find that neither wife's nor husband's individual-level
attitudes explain significant incremental variance for wives' and husbands' housework or husbands' employment. However, wife's traditional
attitudes are associated negatively with her employment at the second survey, for both indexes.

8. We allow a slightly older age range for the wives in this sample to more closely represent the life course position of our focal sample at
NSFH2. We do not divide parental status according to parity because the child care question in the NSFH1 survey asks about time spent in
care of a single focal child.

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[Author note]
LAURA SANCHEZ Tulane University ELIZABETH THOMSON University of Wisconsin

[Author note]
REPRINT REQUESTS: Laura Sanchez, Tulane University, Department of Sociology, 220 Newcomb Hall, New Orleans, LA 70118;
Elizabeth Thomson, University of Wisconsin, Department of Sociology, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53706.

[Author note]
Laura Sanchez is an assistant professor of sociology at Tulane University. Her substantive interests include feminist perspectives on family
demography and the gender division of labor. Her current research examines the effects of work/family conflict on marriage formation and
dissolution and couple views of gender equity in personal relationships. Elizabeth Thomson is a professor of sociology at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison. She has published articles on couple childbearing decisions and effects of divorce on parents and children. Her recent
work investigates childbearing decisions in the context of gender equality and supports for child rearing in the United States and Sweden.