You – me – both of us? Insights into German couples’ plans and practices of dividing paid work, housework, and childcare at the transition to parenthood

Faculty/Professorship: University of Bamberg  ; Fakultät Sozial- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften: Abschlussarbeiten 
Author(s): Dechant, Anna
Publisher Information: Bamberg : Otto-Friedrich-Universität
Year of publication: 2022
Pages: v, 238 ; Illustrationen
Supervisor(s): Blossfeld, Hans-Peter ; Evertsson, Marie
Language(s): English
Dissertation, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, 2017
DOI: 10.20378/irb-54295
Licence: Creative Commons - CC BY - Attribution 4.0 International 
URN: urn:nbn:de:bvb:473-irb-542954
The present study focused on the question of why couples change their division of paid and unpaid labor when they become parents. The knowledge of changes during the transition to parenthood is well-established in previous research and quite stable in various countries. Extending this knowledge, the aim was to examine how couples, on the point of becoming mothers and fathers, perceived and explained these changes in their division of employment and housework, in what way they anticipated them, and how they explained unexpected changes. This analysis was done for West German couples as the western part of Germany is an example for the combination of a conservative welfare state that supports the male breadwinner norm, and parenthood ideals that increasingly suggest fathers’ active involvement in childcare and mothers’ labor market activity. In order to gain insight into couples’ decision-making processes, a qualitative research design was used. Both partners in fourteen couples were interviewed twice, once during the woman’s pregnancy and once about one year later. During the first interview, partners were asked about their current division of paid work and housework and its history. More importantly, they were asked about their plans concerning the division of paid work, housework, and childcare within the first year after the child’s birth and their reasoning for these plans. Following-up on the first interview, the second interview focused on the actual present division of paid work, housework, and childcare, and on changes since the previous interview. The interview guideline was informed by theoretical mechanisms of economic as well as gender and identity theories.
Before the birth of their first child, both partners in each of the couples were active in the labor market. For the time after the child’s birth, the couples planned substantial changes mostly for the women’s paid work and not for the men’s. These plans were mostly realized. While a strong adult worker norm was present for men and women before the child’s birth, this was less strong for women after having their first child. In the reasonings, economic arguments and gendered explanations were common.
Housework was not divided equally in most couples before the child’s birth; the female partners often did more housework and usually did more of the routine work. Most couples had no clear expectation for their division of housework after the child’s birth, but there was a notion that the partner who was supposed to do more childcare was also expected to do more housework. Accordingly, most of the male interviewees reduced their housework. The argument of available time was most often referred to.
The division of childcare was planned with more detail than the division of housework during pregnancy. Most couples planned the female partner to invest more time than the male partner – which is in line with the plans for paid work. Most couples put their plans into practice after the child’s birth – at least more or less. Gendered explanations , (acquired) competencies and preferences were important in the couples’ reasoning.
Paid and unpaid work are interrelated; decisions in one area influence the other. However, the findings for the three spheres revealed that paid and unpaid work were connected in different ways before the child’s birth, in the plans, and after the transition to parenthood.
The study discusses limitations and policy conclusion. The most important policy conclusion is that gendered ideas about mothers’ and fathers’ share in paid work, housework, and childcare are quite prevalent, especially regarding the main responsibility for the child. Thus, policies aiming at enhancing gender equality should bear the narrative of the “Rabenmutter” and similar gendered expectations in mind since the cultural context affects the acceptance of policies.
GND Keywords: Deutschland (Westliche Länder); Geschlechtliche Arbeitsteilung; Partnerschaft; Eltern
Keywords: division of paid and unpaid work, transition to parenthood, qualitative analysis
DDC Classification: 300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology  
RVK Classification: MS 3070   
Type: Doctoralthesis
Release Date: 30. November 2022

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