What Are Men Doing while Women Perform Extra Unpaid Labor? Leisure and Specialization at the Transitions to Parenthood

Abstract

Marriage has significantly changed since Becker proposed his specialization model yet some scholars maintain that specialization characterizes modern couples. Specialization occurs when one partner, traditionally the man, concentrates on market work while the other partner, traditionally the woman, focuses on nonmarket work such as housework or childcare. Using innovative time diary data from primarily highly-educated, White, dual-earner U.S. couples, we examine how couples manage their time in market and household work and leisure across a momentous, gendered life course turning point—the transition to parenthood. We find little evidence of specialization, but stronger evidence of nonspecialization where both partners concurrently engaged in market work or leisure. Yet gender still mattered. Men enjoyed more leisure time, particularly on nonworkdays, whereas their partners performed more nonmarket work. Our study is the first known to uncover exactly what men were doing while women performed additional minutes of housework and childcare. On nonworkdays, fathers engaged in leisure 47% and 35% of the time during which mothers performed childcare and routine housework, respectively. Mothers engaged in leisure only about 16% to 19% of the time that fathers performed childcare and routine housework. In sum, although our study challenges economic theories of specialization by suggesting that nonspecialization is the norm for new parents’ time among highly-educated, dual-earner couples, persistent gender inequalities continue to characterize family work and leisure time.

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Acknowledgements

The New Parents Project was funded by the National Science Foundation (CAREER 0746548, Schoppe-Sullivan), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD; 1K01HD056238, Kamp Dush), with support from The Ohio State University’s Initiative in Population Research (NICHD; R24 HD058484, 1 R21 HD047943-01) and Department of Human Development and Family Science. The contents of this paper are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent official views of NICHD, NSF, or The Ohio State University. We thank the families and research assistants who made the New Parents Project possible.

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Correspondence to Claire M. Kamp Dush.

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The authors of this manuscript, Claire M. Kamp Dush, Jill E. Yavorsky, and Sarah J. Schoppe-Sullivan, assert that principles of ethical and professional conduct have been followed.

This study was funded by the National Science Foundation (CAREER 0746548, Schoppe-Sullivan), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD; 1K01HD056238, Kamp Dush), with support from The Ohio State University’s Initiative in Population Research (NICHD; R24 HD058484, 1 R21 HD047943–01) and the Department of Human Development and Family Science.

The contents of this paper are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent official views of NICHD, NSF, or The Ohio State University.

There are no financial, or non-financial, conflicts of interest associated with this study.

This study was approved by The Ohio State University Institutional Review Board (Study ID: 2007B0228). Informed consent was obtained from the human subjects involved with this research.

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Kamp Dush, C.M., Yavorsky, J.E. & Schoppe-Sullivan, S.J. What Are Men Doing while Women Perform Extra Unpaid Labor? Leisure and Specialization at the Transitions to Parenthood. Sex Roles 78, 715–730 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-017-0841-0

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Keywords

  • Specialization
  • Division of labor
  • Transition to parenthood
  • Gender gap
  • Gender equality
  • Housework
  • Leisure