The parenthood effect: what explains the increase in gender inequality when British couples become parents?
Social Policy London School of Economics London, United Kingdom
The transition to parenthood is a crucial junction in people's life cycles from which social and economic inequalities between women and men start to widen. Since long-term inequalities are likely to be driven to a large extent by how couples' adapt their division of paid work, housework and childcare after becoming parents, this raises the question what the main influences are of couples' division of labour choice shortly after the birth of their first child.
Most existing research on the transition to parenthood did not consider both changes in couples' paid and domestic work or just described the changes occurring. Therefore relatively little is known about possible determinants of couples' adaptation in employment and domestic work. This study extends the literature by examining the relative importance of both partners' gender role attitudes and earnings before a birth for the way British couples organise their division of labour in the second year of parenthood.
The empirical analysis uses binary and ordered logistic regression models of couples' division of childcare, housework and paid work and is based on fourteen waves of the British Household Panel Survey (1992-2005). The findings suggest that men's and women's gender role attitudes are of greater importance for how parents' adapt their division of labour than partners' relative or absolute earnings. This contradicts predictions based on neo-classical economic theory and earlier results from a similar study in the US, where earnings appear more important than people's gender role attitudes.
At first sight, the greater significance of both partners' gender role attitudes may be interpreted as couples in the UK having more choice to follow their identities rather than economic pressures. A comparison of maternity/paternity leave entitlements and childcare availability in the two countries however suggests some alternative explanations of gendered policy contexts overriding economic arguments as well as constructing people?s gender role identities.