Balancing beliefs, behaviors, and a baby: How young dual-earner couples negotiate paid and unpaid work during the transition to parenthood

Date of Completion

January 2009


Women's Studies|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies




This study examines how couples attempt to utilize parental strategies that are in line with their beliefs about gender and parenting, their previous behavioral patterns as a couple, and the existing barriers and opportunities created by their employers and childcare options. It also compare the experiences of first and second time parents, as prior research has largely ignored the experiences of couples having their second or third child.^ To research these issues, I conducted qualitative in-depth interviews with pregnant public school teachers (K-12) and their husbands. I focused on school teachers, a non-elite female dominated field, as the majority of women still work in such fields. A series of three longitudinal interviews were conducted with each couple, with the first during pregnancy, the second during the three months following the birth of the baby, and the third approximately one year after the baby's birth. At each interview point, I interviewed the couple both together and separately, to capture the “his,” “her,” and “their” narratives that exist within each relationship (Bernard, 1972; Hackstaff 1999).^ I explore the connections between each couple's beliefs about gender equality, actual division of housework and childcare, and their decision making process. Several aspects are studied in chronological order, including how couples choose when to have a baby, decide on maternity and paternity leave length, and the challenges and rewards they experience in their relationship. Throughout the dissertation, I examine how the division of household labor pre-baby affects the post-baby division. My findings support previous research which found that couples are likely to experience increasing inequality and gender differentiation during this time (Cohen and Cohen 1992; Walzer 1998). I also explore the contexts in which some couples negotiate an equal division of domestic labor and how negotiations are connected to their perceptions of recent changes in parental roles and societal expectations.^