Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Equity Dynamics in the Perceived Fairness of Infant Care

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Equity Dynamics in the Perceived Fairness of Infant Care

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

The distributive justice of unpaid household labor has inspired substantial research attention during the past few decades. Most of this attention has focused on spouses' perceptions of fairness of the division of labor in their marriage with respect to household chores (e.g., DeMaris & Longmore, 1996; Gager & Hohmann-Marriott, 2006; Mikula, Riederer, & Bodi, 2012). Relatively less attention has been given to the fairness of child care and, in particular, infant care (some exceptions are Grote & Clark, 1998; Grote, Naylor, & Clark, 2002; Hawkins Marshall, & Meiners, 1995; Mikula, Schoebi, Jagoditsch, & Macher, 2009; Reichle & Gefke, 1998). Caring for children constitutes one of the most important functions of the family. Moreover, it is a task associated with considerable time, energy, and stress for parents (Thompson & Walker, 1989). It is therefore imperative that social scientists also understand the extent to which this arena of marriage is characterized by a sense of justice and the factors contributing to this sense.

A common theoretical framework applied to perceptions of fairness in household labor is the distributive justice paradigm (Hawkins et al., 1995; Kluwer, Heesink, & van de Vliert, 2002; Mikula etal., 2009; Thompson, 1991). As women perform most unpaid family labor, the paradigm is often couched in terms of what affects women's sense of fairness in this endeavor. The framework suggests that women's evaluations of justice depend on three components: the comparison standards on which women base their judgments, the extent to which domestic labor results in valued outcomes for women, and the justifications employed by both spouses to legitimate the existing division of labor. Generally, wives see domestic labor as more unfairly apportioned the less their husbands contribute to it, the more they compare husbands' contributions to their own contributions, and the less they feel appreciated for the work they do (Hawkins et al., 1995; Kluwer et al., 2002; Mikula et al., 2009).

Although useful, this paradigm is somewhat limited. Its view of household labor as the focal point of justice evaluations tends to disregard the larger context of married life. In addition to housework and child care, for example, spouses need to relate to each other as companions and lovers. Someone also needs to work in the paid labor force to support the standard of living of the household. Marriage is, above all, a partnership, and couples understand that each spouse has contributions to make in a number of potential domains relevant to family life. In recent years, DeMaris and his associates have articulated a form of equity theory that stresses the multidimensional nature of spousal contributions as affecting various marital outcomes including perceptions of housework fairness, long-term marital stability, and marital quality (DeMaris, 2007, 2010; DeMaris & Longmore, 1996; DeMaris, Mahoney, & Pargament, 2010). In this article, we bring this perspective to bear on evaluations of the fairness of infant care.

In particular, we employ longitudinal data from a study of 178 married couples across the transition to first parenthood to examine determinants of the perceived fairness of infant care. (We use the term child care interchangeably with infant care throughout the article to avoid repetitiveness.) Four measurement occasions were used during a period covering from the third trimester of pregnancy to approximately a year after the birth. We study husbands' as well as wives' perceptions of justice in infant care. Unlike some other studies that use single-item measures of child-care fairness, we use a multi-item measure referencing the fairness of nine separate infant care tasks. To further tease out differences in perceptions by gender, we use a multilevel modeling strategy that illuminates how factors affect both the level of justice in infant care as well as the gender gap in justice perceptions. …

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