Academic journal article Family Relations

An Evaluation of a Program to Help Dual-Earner Couples Share the Second Shift

Academic journal article Family Relations

An Evaluation of a Program to Help Dual-Earner Couples Share the Second Shift

Article excerpt

Most family life educators understand that sharing the "second shift" (Hochschild, 1989) plays an important role in improving the quality of family life in dual-earner families. More than a decade of intensive research has documented that husbands are not doing an equitable share of daily domestic labor, even when their wives are employed full-time outside the home (Demo & Acock, 1993; Shelton, 1993). To date, however, little work by family life educators has focused on how to help dual-earner couples share housework and child care (Hawkins & Roberts, 1992). Because satisfaction with the division of domestic labor is an important contributor to marital quality (Hochschild, 1989), family scholars and practitioners are calling for programs to assist dual-earner couples with their struggles to work out equitable and mutually satisfactory arrangements for sharing domestic labor (Darling-Fisher & Tiedje, 1990; Demo & Acock, 1993). This article evaluates a primary intervention program designed to do just that.

The questions we ask are: (a) How effective was the program in increasing fathers' involvement in housework and child care? (b) Was the program effective in creating greater satisfaction with family work arrangements for both wives and husbands? (c) Did participation in this program increase marital quality and happiness for husbands and wives? (d) Was change in men's involvement in daily domestic labor related to wives' marital quality?


Conceptual Basis

We based the program on a conceptual model proposed by Hawkins and Roberts (1992). In that article, we urged family life educators to give attention to several specific issues. Readers interested in the details of the conceptual model should read Hawkins and Roberts (1992). Briefly, we argued that a program to increase men's involvement in domestic labor should include both husbands and wives and should first seek to strengthen communication and emotion expression skills. Men and women in intimate relations often face significant barriers to understanding each other that impede conflict resolution (Tannen, 1990). The negotiation process required to increase men's involvement in family work may be frustrated not so much by husbands' lack of concern for their wives, but rather by differing patterns of emotional expression and communication between husbands and wives.

A second issue we emphasized was the need to connect housework and child care. Researchers typically have treated housework and child care as separate domains. Studies have documented small increases (measured in minutes) over the past 30 years in men's involvement in domestic work, but these extra minutes have gone to child care rather than housework (Pleck, 1985; Thompson & Walker, 1989). McBride (1990, 1991) has shown that programs for fathers can increase participation in child rearing. Feminist scholars, however, have argued that these two domains, child care and housework, are intimately connected (Ruddick, 1984). Moreover, if fathers are selective about the specific domestic tasks they will and will not perform, mothers are likely to be left with the more tedious tasks, while men take on the more pleasant ones (Coleman, 1988). This situation is not conducive to genuine equity. Thus, the program emphasized men's involvement in housework as well as child care, and showed how these two domains go together.

The third issue we emphasized was intervention at multiple levels. For most couples, the forces that restrain or drive equitable sharing of daily domestic labor reside at multiple levels of analysis: individual, dyadic, familial, generational, social, structural, and cultural. Programs that focus only on individual-level forces, for instance, such as personal attitudes and ideologies, risk underestimating the strength of structural-or cultural-level forces on contemporary men, such as an unresponsive workplace. Thus, the program evaluated here began with discussions and activities focused on individual and family-of-origin barriers to shared domestic labor (e. …

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