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Updated 10:00 AM February 18, 2005
 

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  Research
Study: Super Moms agree to do more

A recent University study suggests that the Super Mom role is real, and that married working mothers anticipate volunteering to take on a child care burden that is equal to what full-time, stay-at-home moms expect.

Although past research clearly has documented the working woman's tendency to shoulder most of the child care and housework, Marlena Studer's study, "Gendered Negotiations: Marital Decision-Making about a Labor of Love," examines the decision-making process that leads to the division of labor and child rearing in the household.

Women often shoulder the majority of the duties, but little is known about how couples "negotiate" this labor of love. One of the most surprising findings is that women in dual working marriages negotiated nearly the same child care work load as women who planned to stay home full-time to raise their children.

"Women do have a role in defining what trajectory the family and work responsibilities will take, and the role is most critical in the beginning—that's a time when couples are laying the foundation for their future," Studer says.

Studer, a visiting scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, interviewed 50 pregnant couples regarding their plans for work and family roles after their expected baby's arrival. She found that couples fell into one of four different family patterns: traditional families (stay-at-home moms and breadwinner dads), dual-working families (dad as primary earner and mom as primary parent and secondary earner), egalitarian families (shared parenting and breadwinning), and non-traditional families (mom as primary earner). Not all of the couples in the study were first-time parents.

The women in dual-working families, dubbed "second-shifters," agreed to spend 2.87 times more hours per week on infant care than their husbands, in addition to outside careers. Full-time, stay-at-home moms predicted they would spend 2.98 times more than their husbands on infant care—yet those women did not have to juggle an outside career.

"When women do work, they also tend to be the primary parents, so what they end up having is a "second shift" at home after they come home from their paid jobs," Studer says. "By doing so, they experience more stress and role conflict than their counterparts."

These second-shifters anticipated doing more of the child care than their husbands, at a rate nearly the same as women in traditional couples, Studer says.

There are many reasons that working women do not ask or expect their spouses to share the tasks of caregiving, Studer says, such as guilt or lower earning expectations than their husbands. One of the factors that appears to set egalitarian couples apart from dual-working families is the egalitarian couples' ideological commitment to sharing housework and to investing equally in their earning potential.

Studer would like to follow the couples as they settle into their new roles as parents to see how the actual duties they assume compare with what they negotiated.

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