Interview - Ruth Gaunt, reader in social psychology at the University of Lincoln's School of Psychology
Monday, August 25, 2014
Dr Gaunt has led a two-year study, funded by a European Union research grant, to explore how fathers' and mothers' identities shape the ways they divide work and childcare responsibilities.
Why did you carry out the research?
While most people today believe that parents should share breadwinning and childcare, most wives are still the primary caregivers and most husbands are the primary breadwinners. We carried out the research in an attempt to explain this gap between a person's beliefs in equality and their actual behaviour.
What method did you use?
The study surveyed 148 couples with at least one child aged six years or younger. We measured participants' parental and work-related identities, and used advanced statistical procedures to explore the complex links between identities and couples' division of work and childcare.
What were the main findings and did they surprise you?
As expected, we found that the more a woman self-identifies with her profession, the more paid hours she works and the fewer hours she was sole care provider for the child. Importantly, this meant the gap between hours of care provided by men and women was smallest in couples where women had strongest professional identities.
An intriguing finding was that the more a woman identifies herself with motherhood, the less time the father spends with the children. We assume that women who place more importance on maternal identities have a greater need to validate their identity, and they do this by maintaining main responsibility for childcare. The women in the sample who identified most with their maternal role tended to do all childcare tasks - such as changing, bathing, playing - by themselves.
What are the implications of the research?
Our findings can inform intervention programmes designed to promote fathers' involvement in the family or mothers' involvement in paid work. They highlight the importance of addressing identities, including their meanings and links to behaviour, as part of such interventions.
Do you have any plans in the future to build on this research?
We intend to conduct cross-national comparisons to understand the effects of institutional and cultural contexts. The UK has one of the highest employment rates in Europe for mothers of pre-school children, but one of the lowest rates of maternal full-time employment, with just one in four couples both in full-time work. British mothers need to overcome barriers to commit to full-time employment.
Dr Gaunt spoke to Katy Morton