Stay-at-Home Fathers and Breadwinning Mothers : Gender, Couple,Dynamics, and Social Change

Posted on 13 April 2012


by Noelle Chesley
Gender & Society 2011 25: 642

I examine experiences of married couples to better understand whether economic shifts that push couples into gender-atypical work/family arrangements influence gender inequality. I draw on in-depth interviews conducted in 2008 with stay-at-home husbands and their wives in 21 married-couple families with children (42 individual interviews). I find that the decision to have a father stay home is heavily influenced by economic conditions, suggesting that men’s increased job instability and shifts in the relative employment conditions of husbands and wives push some men into at-home fatherhood.
However, this shift in family arrangements can promote change toward greater gender equality even in couples that initially hold entrenched, gendered beliefs. The data indicate that at-home fathers come to value their increased involvement in children’s care in ways that reduce gender differences in parenting and that have the potential to translate into institutional change, particularly when they reenter the labor force. Furthermore, at-home father arrangements generally appear to provide increased support for women’s employment and promote changes in women’s work behavior that may reduce inequities that stem from traditionally gendered divisions in work/family responsibilities.

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