Sex Roles

, Volume 76, Issue 5–6, pp 319–333 | Cite as

Division of Household and Childcare Labor and Relationship Conflict Among Low-Income New Parents

  • Katie NewkirkEmail author
  • Maureen Perry-Jenkins
  • Aline G. Sayer
Original Article


We examine the relationships among the division of housework and childcare labor, perceptions of its fairness for two types of family labor (housework and childcare), and parents’ relationship conflict across the transition to parenthood. Perceived fairness is examined as a mediator of the relationships between change in the division of housework and childcare and relationship conflict. Working-class, dual-earner couples (n = 108) in the U.S Northeast were interviewed at five time points from the third trimester of pregnancy and across the first year of parenthood. Research questions addressed whether change in the division of housework and childcare across the transition to parenthood predicted mothers’ and fathers’ relationship conflict, with attention to the mediating role of perceived fairness of these chores. Findings for housework indicated that perceived fairness was related to relationship conflict for mothers and fathers, such that when spouses perceived the change in the division of household tasks to be unfair to either partner, they reported more conflict, However, fairness did not significantly mediate relations between changes in division of household tasks and later relationship conflict. For childcare, fairness mediated relations between mothers’ violated expectations concerning the division of childcare and later conflict such that mothers reported less conflict when they perceived the division of childcare as less unfair to themselves; there was no relationship for fathers. Findings highlight the importance of considering both childcare and household tasks independently in our models and suggest that the division of housework and childcare holds different implications for mothers’ and fathers’ assessments of relationship conflict.


Transition to parenthood Housework/division of labor Childcare Multilevel models working-class families Relationship conflict 



Our research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to Maureen Perry-Jenkins (R01-MH56777). We gratefully acknowledge Aya Ghunney, Hillary Paul Halpern, Holly Laws, Elizabeth Harvey, and Naomi Gerstel for their assistance on this project.

This research is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health and was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the authors’ institution.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Informed Consent

All participants were over age 18, and informed consent practices were followed and approved by IRB.

Conflict of interest

None of the authors have a financial or other conflict of interest related to this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Center for Research on FamiliesUniversity of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA

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