Relationship quality with pre-school children: how paid and domestic work matter to her, him, and them

Pia S Schober, University of Cambridge

Most longitudinal studies comparing couples’ marital satisfaction before and after becoming parents have found a decrease in both partners’ happiness with the relationship at least temporarily after the birth of their first child (e.g. Twenge, Campbell et al. 2003). Recent UK studies also find a reversal in the previously established stabilising effect of children (Chan and Halpin 2005). For most couples, the transition to parenthood results in significant increases in time spent on domestic work especially due to time-intensive childcare. This is often accompanied by a shift towards a more traditional division of domestic work and reduction in paid work of at least one partner (usually the mother). To date, there is a lack of evidence as on how couples’ division of childcare may matter to relationship quality. Despite considerable literature on housework and paid work, we also know very little specifically for couples with preschool children. This paper provides new British evidence on how the satisfaction with one’s partner and couples’ relationship stability during their first years of parenthood is associated with differences in partners’ division of childcare, housework and paid work. Based on data from the British Household Panel Survey (1994-2005), the empirical analysis uses OLS regression and event-history analysis. The results suggest that couples who share childcare are less likely to separate than those where mothers are mainly responsible for childcare, even though sharing is associated with lower satisfaction with the partner for couples with just one child. In contrast to previous findings for other couple populations, housework or paid work division seem to matter less than childcare for couples’ relationship quality during the early years of parenthood.

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Presented in Session 62: The Gender Division of Domestic Work