Article 10. Caryn E. Medved and William K. Rawlins. At-Home Fathers and Breadwinning
Mothers: Variations in Constructing Work and Family Lives
Medved, Caryn E. & Rawlins, William K. (2013). At-Home Fathers and Breadwinning Mothers:
Variations in Constructing Work and Family Lives. Pp. 200-221 in The Gendered Society
Reader, 5th ed. Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson, eds.). New York: Oxford University Press.
12% of couples report women earn more than 60% of family income, 3% report being
100% dependent on wife’s income (US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
1994-2005 – 200% increase in at-home fathers
Males disproportionately affected by 2008 recession
Women outpace men in education and earnings growth (Pew Research Center)
47.8% of married couple are dual earner couples
Purpose of research: meaning and identity in lives of husbands and wives in at home
Review of Literature
Dual Earner Couples Negotiations
o Women’s income not translate into increased power
o Division of labor
o Marital decision making
o Women still do more housework than husbands
o As wife’s income rises, husbands do more
o Higher income women downplay their financial contributions to the family
Labor Force Decision-Making and Opting Out
o Women’s decisions to leave labor force for child care are result of
Factors pushing women out of workforce – motherhood, lack of
supportive spouse, falling career aspirations
Factors pulling them into paid labor – career aspirations, ambivalence
toward motherhood, financial necessity
o Stay at home fathers judged harshly, sacrifice family security
o Working mother perceived as less nurturing, caring, dedicated to family
o Radin – four characteristics of fathers who stay at home more than 2 years
Own fathers were inattentive
In 30s with prior career experience
Support of extended family members
Have small family
o Rochlen – Reasons men exit paid work
Wives have high value for career
Full-time parenting an opportunity
Caregiving aligns with preference, personality
o Douset, Canadian study of 20 father
Do not entirely forego work-related identity; parttime home base work,
self-provisioning work (landscaping, carpentry, woodworking, car repair),
home based employment
• Social pressure to earn
• Need to socialize with other men on masculine level
o CENTRAL RESEARCH QUESTION: How do stay-at-home fathers and
breadwinning mothers articulate their stances toward moneymaking and
Doing, Undoing and Reworking Gender
o We do gender in everyday discourse
Ongoing negotiations and coordination of gendered tasks and identities
How language shapes what couples see as possible in terms of
homemaking and moneymaking
We can undo and rework gender through our language and social
Semi-structured interviews with 8 married couples from large metropolitan area and midsized town in Midwest, two couples from east coast
o SAHFC – Stay-at-home fathering couples
o White, upper middle class, heterosexual couples, stay at home fathers,
o Married 10 years average, in current arrangements average 3 years
Analysis of Interviews – themes
o Task responsibility – who does what for how long and why?
o Identity adoption – self understanding, Who am I?
o How they portrayed gender in relation to work and family role eligibilities. Role =
socially defined expectations associated with performing specific activities
Report findings in five narratives. Role eligibility –ways couples reflected stereotyped or
and unequal eligibility for men and women
o SEE APPENDIX 2, P. 218 FOR CONCISE SUMMARY OF FIVE PATTERNS
Five Homemaking-Moneymaking Stances
Four common factors
o Both parents wanted children cared for at home
o Wife earned more than husband except in one case
o Every father except one had greater flexibility in work schedule than mother
o Temperament conducive to spending time with children and not threatened by
homemaking work and identities
STANCE 1: REVERSING
o Sex of person performing homemaking or moneymaking tasks are reversed but
meaning stays intact
o Wife made more money so husband decided to stay home but tried to work at
home via email. Had identity crisis about not staying connected with occupation;
determining household task problematic; Saw homemaking as women’s
responsibility and money making as man’s responsibility; transitory adoption.
Tensions – only transitory
STANCE 2. CONFLICTING
o Couple articulates contradictory meanings for the performance of unconventional
work and family tasks, identities, eligibilities. Reflects both openness and
discontent with division of task responsibilities. Meaning making fraught with
o Nanny quit after 4 years, wife made more money, path of least resistance for wife
to quit. Husband good with kids. Wife worried kids would think they were not as
important as her work. Biggest challenge for dad was managing his parttime paid
employment as financial planning consultant; wanted more work.
o Household chores were contested. He said she was more concerned about how
clean house was than he was. She switched to lower paying job so she could have
more life/work balance. Husband thought work not very important to her.
o Many facets of traditional male and female roles. Neither partner reconciled to
their roles and identities.
STANCE 3. COLLABORATING
o Recognizes gender prescription but desires to transcend them. Shared conscious
decision to have children and husband stay home because wife made more
money. She liked her work but worried about being a good parent. Household
labor distributed equitably based on personal preference.
o Aware of gender prescriptions but able to negotiate jointly to minimize role based
tensions. Portray themselves as a team emphasizing equality and respect for
choices of the other.
STANCE 4. IMPROVISING
o In terms of work and family life, attempt to improvise meaning without taking
gender as the primary frame for tasks, identities, or eligibilities. Disavows
gendered assumptions and replaces with language of personal preference
o Wife corporate person, husband good with kids. One son had serious vision
problem so lived in city with good eye surgeon.
o Husband saw kids as his work, his job.
o Domestic issues. Some issues but respected personal priorities. Husband was
renovating the house as well as doing most of the housework and the major, major
role of childcare. Husband and wife have different priorities in terms of
o Couple described relationship as involving friendship, open communication,
equality, mutual support, room for differences.
STANCE 5. SHARING
o Co-providing and co-sharing; creating new meanings and living work and family
life differently. Sharing orientation to domestic and paid labor.
o Academic couple
o Envisioned both fully working and being parents
o They took each other’s last name – symbolic commitment to equality
o Child care – “We are both the primary caregiver.”
o Worked their course schedules and teaching schedules to accommodate the other
parent. Very fluid. Continual negotiation.
o Shared power and cooperative adaptation of parenting and homemaking.
o Potential conflicts from ongoing negotiation of practices and identities, time
constraints, dealing with others who question their arrangement.
Discussion and Implications
Research question: How do stay-at-home fathers and breadwinning mothers articulate
their stances toward moneymaking and homemaking?
Social construction of masculinities and femininities and potential for transformative
o Reversing couple: may have shifted husband’s understanding of or performance
of his masculinity; others seeing his behavior of caring for children may also be
o Conflicting stance: Relational tensions have the reality of their choices, but
conflict is a part of social change so discomfort may be evidence of the social
constructionist perspective at work. Unconventional gendered arrangements
involving conflictual interactions can evidence social change. Change is a process
or doing and undoing.
o Collaborating couples: Collaboration is sophisticated and gentile but conventional
masculinity ad femininity remaining part of interpretive frame. Locus of conflict
is internal rather than relational in contrast to first two stances.
o Improvising stance: Let go of gender accountability in their work and family
lives. friends. Non-hierarchical relations, personal preference, differing sextypical abilities. Undoing of gender, husband and wife minimize traditional
masculinities and femininities. Husband born to do caregiving – use biology to
support atypical work and family roles
o Sharing Couple: Explicitly and consistently resists traditional masculinities in
word and deed. The post-feminist ideal of equal and fully participative divisions
of labor as well as external markers of gender change such as taking each other’s
names. Tensions form lack of role models, manipulating employment structures to
accommodate their sharing is not easy.
Conclusions and Next steps
Performance and articulation of gender in lives of couples
No one right way to be successful
Co-construction and contextual nature of the performances of their roles.