Can couples who equally share domestic work maintain their egalitarian ways after the birth of their first child? And how is subjective satisfaction with work-life balance related to equal arrangements? Researchers María José González, Irene Lapuerta, Teresa Martín-García and Marta Seiz recently published a study analysing 31 dual-earner couples in Spain who had practiced an egalitarian division of household tasks during pregnancy.
The authors found that, contrary to their expectations, an equal division of domestic work does not automatically lead to an equal division of childcare. They discovered that half of the couples moved towards an unequal gender division of childcare after the birth of their child and only 15 of 31 couples shared caregiving responsibilities.
Which factors facilitate or hinder satisfaction?
But this did not necessarily cause dissatisfaction with work-life-balance. The authors examined men’s and women’s prenatal ideas and expectations about parenthood, and the extent to which their fulfilment contributes to enhanced satisfaction. Couples content with work-life-balance appear to depend less on the actual strategies than on their initial expectations about parenthood and gender division. Also, intra-couple homogamy (i.e. women earn the same or more than her partner) influences the overall work-life-balance satisfaction. But still, they found that women’s economic power is a benefit to higher satisfaction levels and a more equal sharing of childcare.
The results suggest that there is a lot of room for improvement in promoting more jointly responsible – and therefore more satisfying – work-life-balance strategies, especially for fathers who showed an initial desire to share parental responsibilities and were not able to due to limitations at work.
Modern families need updated policies
The authors assume that public policies to expand parents’ rights and to establish early patterns of shared parenting, such as individual and non-transferrable parental leaves, would enhance and normalise new concepts of parenthood, and should therefore lead to a more a more widespread and more satisfactory work-life-balance.