Angels of the Home: How Women Think About and Organise their Paid Work, Care and Households After Childbirth
Author: Gregory, Sheree K, firstname.lastname@example.org
Department: Global Studies, Social Science and Planning
University: RMIT University, Australia
Supervisor: Prof. Judith Bessant; Dr. Helen Marshall
Year of completion: 2011
Language of dissertation: English
This thesis explores the continued inequities in the gendered division of labour within family households and their impact on women’s participation in labour market work, particularly around the birth and rearing of children.
The thesis establishes a conceptual framework made up of Williams’ (2000) ‘domesticity ideology’ of the ideal worker and marginalised carer norms, a critical application of Hakim’s (2000) notion of ‘preferences’, and Bourdieu’s (1977, 2005) notion of habitus, field and symbolic violence, to investigate and report qualitative research with twenty-seven women about their work and family arrangements. This theoretical framework suggests the value of establishing how women experience gender relations within the household to explain how unequal work-care arrangements and outcomes are created, maintained and perpetuated.
The research explored the key influences on how employed women thought about and organised their paid work and family/care arrangements before and after the birth of children and how they managed the relationship between the workplace and household, during the two years of data collection. This involved exploring the complex negotiations over, and implications of, managing work-family demands.
The research used qualitative methods to document and analyse women’s individual experiences. The research involved a process of three successive interviews with twenty-seven women employed in either the higher education sector or in the retail industry in Victoria. At the time of the first interview the women were either pregnant or had recently had a baby in the last twelve months. The sequence of interviews explored their preferences, intentions and plans; influences on decisions; views on choice; employment transitions, and lived experiences of organising their paid work and family as they thought about childbirth, the household, maternity leave and after returning to paid work.
The analysis covered four aspects of women’s paid work-family decision-making experiences around childbirth: how women think about their paid work and care; their paid work transitions across each stage of the data collection; how women experience returning to paid work after childbirth; and how women manage and negotiate work-care in the household. The data gathered in the course of the research demonstrated that regardless of workplace policy, it was the negotiations and decision-making in the household that mattered most. Further, the idea that women today are exercising personal and unconstrained choice when they 'scale back', 'opt out', 'cut back' or 'drop back' from their paid work in order to weave a balance between paid and unpaid work, fails to acknowledge the potency of the gendered habitus which instates child care as a task best carried out by women.